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Steampunk Review: The Kingmakers (Vampire Empire #3) by Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The epic Vampire Empire trilogy rushes to a conclusion of honor and love, hatred and vengeance, sacrifice and loss. A war to the death. Empress Adele has launched a grand crusade against the vampire clans of the north. Prince Gareth, the vampire lord of Scotland, serves the Equatorian cause, fighting in the bloody trenches of France in his guise as the dashing Greyfriar. But the human armies are pinned down, battered by harsh weather and merciless attacks from vampire packs. To even the odds, Adele unleashes the power of her geomancy, a fearsome weapon capable of slaughtering vampires in vast numbers. However, the power she expends threatens her own life even as she questions the morality of such a weapon. As the war turns ever bloodier and Adele is threatened by betrayal, Gareth faces a terrible choice. Their only hope is a desperate strike against the lord of the vampire clans-Gareth’s brother, Cesare. It is a gamble that could win the war or signal the final days of the Greyfriar.

My impressions:

It wasn’t a bad ending of a series but also one which left me a bit disappointed and strangely detached. I would call it an ending of lost potential. Perhaps it’s been too long between this one and part 2. Who knows.

My first carping: a big epic showdown should be anything but slow. This one was slow. I expected battles, strategy and wartime mayhem, a whirlwind of activity I got pages and pages devoted to single battles, Adele’s angst over the Greyfriar and the difficulties in their relationship. Pages and pages of the Greyfriar’s own angst – about everything not exactly connected to the ongoing war. I think everything that happened and everything anyone felt in this book had to be accompanied by a rather long winded internal monologue, sometimes but not always switching to a dialogue.

Many of these scenes weren’t bad – like Gareth visiting the King of Paris (a nice scene but also one that ended up pretty irrelevant so hardly mattered in the end), or Gareth cooking for Adele. Adele re-uniting with Morgana. Adele talking with Sanah. Anhalt sparring with Senator Clark. Senator Clark’s war in the US. They were all good scenes, albeit overly written with too much monologue, but they were great in their own right for character development and exploration and just plain fun with this world and these people who I enjoy. But they weren’t relevant to the plot – if they were removed the ending would be exactly the same as it was with them. It did seem as if glue, holding the whole novel together, was too weak or simply forgotten.

I hate to say it but Gareth was just a bore, there was nothing to him except for his love for Adele. Adele was supposed to mature and become a kick-ass empress which she did to some extend but also she could be surprisingly annoying. I didn’t understand why she kept questioning whether she should use her powers to kill the vampires despite the fact that 1) they were evil, most of them 2) they were responsible for millions of deaths and planned even more slaughter 3) they wanted to enslave humanity 4) they did nothing, literally nothing to persuade her and other humans otherwise. I suppose her defense of the vampires was meant to make her seem forgiving and compassionate but it just made her look like a dumb empress who wore her heart on her sleeve permanently, being the one and only person with super powers around enamoured with a real VAMPIRE who happened to be a decent guy and love her back.

Never mind that the future of humanity was in her hands, never mind that humans were dropping dead. None of that mattered if it hurt her centuries old lover (?). Everything seemed to fall into place too easily. Adele reads some doodles and realizes she’s the most powerful geomancer in the world at a time when all seems lost. A little too deus ex machina for my taste. All of the planning went nowhere, Adele saves the day and Gareth is immune to her geomancy now and they will be together and all ugly baddies who count are just killed, killed, killed. It served them right perhaps but it was also boring. No subtlety, no wits and no scheming. No compromises either.

Final verdict:

I expected this series to be better. I wanted this series to be better. Unfortunately I was a bit delusional about my expectations. I liked the first book the best, the second was weak and the last one was just so-so.

Steampunk Review: Vampire Empire Book Two: The Rift Walker by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Princess Adele struggles with a life of marriage and obligation as her Equatorian Empire and their American Republic allies stand on the brink of war against the vampire clans of the north. However, the alliance’s horrific strategy for total victory drives Adele to abandon her duty and embark on a desperate quest to keep her nation from staining its hands with genocide. Reunited with her great love, the mysterious adventurer known to the world as the Greyfriar, Adele is pursued by her own people as well as her vengeful almost-husband, senator Clark who wants to be emperor at all costs. With the human alliance in disarrray, Prince Cesare, lord of the British vampire clan, seizes the initiative and strikes at the very heart of Equatoria.

As Adele labors to bring order to her world, she learns more about the strange powers she exhibited in the north. Her teacher, Mamoru, leads a secret cabal of geomancers who believe Adele is the one who can touch the vast power of the Earth that surges through ley lines and wells up at the rifts where the lines meet. These energies are the key to defeating the enemy of mankind, and if Princess Adele could ever bring this power under her command, she could be death to vampires. But such a victory will also cost the life of Adele’s beloved Greyfriar.

The Rift Walker is the second book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternative history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic politcal themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

What I liked:

Adele is getting more mature and she learns to make her own choices – always a good thing in any novel. Vampires change their tactics (ok, prince Cesare changes them to tell you the truth and he has some brilliant ideas despite being a monster so overall I warmed up to him despite his murder at the end) and make alliances previously unheard-of. Characters who were supposed to be white hats in the first part got gray hats or even black hats this time – I liked that very much, especially as it concerned some of court politicians. Good moves.

The world building was exquisite although this time we see more of Africa and less of Scotland or London. Still it was a nice trip, especially as it featured the Abu-Simbel temple of Ramsesses and Amun – I would love to visit that site myself. The steampunk factor was not as pronounced as in the first part but it was felt there nevertheless. Farenheit blades are great. ;D I would fancy one.

The plot was fast-paced with some really nice scenes (the meetings between Adele and senator Clark were actually my favourites), the narration smooth and interesting although not to the very end. Why not ? Read the next section to find out.

What I didn’t like:

The closer the plot drifted to those cheesy Zorro movies and indeed, pulp fiction, the less enjoyable it became to me. Rescuing Adele right from the altar at the last possible moment, right after vows? Oh dear, please, it was done to death; it’s enough to remind that fabulous scene from Shrek 01 where the Donkey flies through a big glass window (exactly like our Greyfriar) on a she-dragon (not exactly like Greyfriar who is a vampire and can fly on his own) and shouts: “I have a dragon and I won’t hesitate to use it!” As an ironic, tongue-in-cheek pastiche it worked perfectly well for me; as a serious, big, fat and romantic plot device – not at all. In fact, in my very humble opinion, it was an insult to Adele’s and Gareth’s intelligence and their ability of strategic planning – they could have orchestrated the whole kindnapping a lot better.

Unfortunately after that scene everything went pretty much downhill. Greyfriar proves time and again that the South is not for vampires and the second part of this book is not for more demanding audience. It is heartbreaking to write it but so I felt. Not even Flay who, next to Cesare, is indeed my favourite black character of this series (if you haven’t read the first part – she is a powerful vampiress in love with Gareth and also a woman spurned by him and believe me, she minds it a lot), could rescue it. Not really. I also hated the fact that Gareth was so weak while travelling in the South. I liked him better while in Scotland.

What I found downright funny (beware: spoilers and some nasty PG remarks ahead – highlight and read at your own risk!):

Ok, so we have this big, teary romance between the princess and her vampiric beloved. They missed each other terribly and they finally meet after a long time in extremely romantic circumstances – he saves her from being married to an American brute she doesn’t love, right? After that they run away together and spend a lot of time alone.Aaaaaaaaaaaaand…he kisses her. Only. Oh, wait, they also cuddle a bit on the same bed and yes, he treats her as his private emergency food storage so he drinks her blood. Still, nothing untoward passes between them because…well, the authors seem very inclined to tiptoeing around that issue as if it was one big hot piece of coal, to be treated with utmost care, preferably to be avoided completely. Honestly… I know it is an YA book but even in such novels these things are at least mentioned, if not vaguely described. At the very end Gareth is princess Adele’s official consort and still they only cuddle…and kiss…and cuddle some more… and drink deeply.
My conclusions? Gareth must be homosexual or a saint or he simply cannot perform. Maybe all these three are true who knowns…

Final verdict:

A good YA novel but also, in my opinion, one definitely worse than the first part which I truly enjoyed. I am still willing to read the third and the final one but I must admit I am a bit wary now. The Rift Walker fell a bit short of my expectations so I wonder what solutions the authors will chose to finish the series. Two and half stars.

Steampunk Review: Vampire Empire Book 1: The Greyfriar by Clay & Susan Griffith

Synopsis:

1870 seemed to be the beginning of the end of the human race – vampires, half mythical creatures lurking in the shadows since time immemorial – finally came out of their graveyards and tombs. They decided to attack western civilizations in the northern zone, climatically the best suited for them, and by doing so to gain access to unlimited free food supplies. The civilized world of humans, totally unprepared for such an enemy, collapsed under the attack in a matter of five years. Human leaders fled south, creating new countries in Africa, South America and Asia while those of their former subjects who were left behind became blood slaves of the conquerors.

A century and a half later, the world remains divided between the vampire and human zones which might be called the North (vampires) and the South (people). Every side prepares to war as nobody is satisfied with their current status quo. Humans rely on the advance of their technology – steel, chemical weapons, quick-firing arms and airships- ignoring the spiritual field and religions of any denomination. Vampires rely on their superior senses and ruthlessness. It seems all sides are in for a surprise.

The Equatorian heiress to the throne, Princess Adele, with her younger brother, Simon, is on a state tour of the northern border free city-states (like Marseilles) when British vampire-in-chief Prince Cesare organizes a successful kidnapping action. The stranded princess meets a mysterious half-legendary (and obviously very lonely) freedom fighter, known as the Greyfriar, but even his amazing skills are not able to save her – she is taken to London and held as a hostage. This event, though, seals a treaty between the two human superpowers, Equatoria and America, and a plan to attack jointly the vampire empires in Europe. After all Princess Adele has recently got engaged to a powerful American senator Clark, a renowned vampire killer, to make such an attack not only possible but also successful. Now she is missing in action – will her fiance be able to save her from the clutches of one of the most cruel vampire warlords? Will this experience change Adele’s outlook on life? Are all vampires as bad as they seem to be?

Vampire lore:

The authors decided to present vampires in a different way for what I am truly grateful. Firstly vampires are born not made; they constitute simply a different species apart from the Homo Sapiens; they also age and some of them don’t age well. While vampires need humans to survive, humans would be better off without such deadly parasites.

Secondly vampires come with flaws – apart from the fact that not all of them are beautiful their sense of touch is very limited (so they don’t feel pain when injured, even very seriously, but they are also a tad clumsy) and their creativeness is pretty much non-existent. Most of them can’t read or write (well, what’s the point, after all, when you live over 800 years and have seen all these historical events?). High temperatures make them sluggish and drowsy – apparently they can’t survive in tropical climate for long. Vampires’ main defense mechanisms are their sight, smell and hearing, superior even to the senses of dogs and cats, their fastness and the fact that they can regenerate very quickly. They can also fly (or maybe rather float changing their density at will) and they speak their own language (but if they want to they can learn human languages as well.)

What I liked:

When I first heard and read about this book I immediately assumed it was intended to appeal to young adult female readers and, as such, ride the well-worn coattails of Twilight – a romantic trio etc etc. The word “steampunk” and some reviews, posted before the release, caught my attention, though. Well, it is an example that you really shouldn’t judge a book by the cover (and the cover of this book is quite nice btw).

The Griffith’s have created a very interesting world and their take on the vampires is unique. The book might be also perceived as a paranormal futuristic spin to the Cold War. The story line is fast-paced (but if you are a more demanding reader you should ignore the plausibility factor from time to time) and the characters – well-rounded. I also loved the mixture of different themes, scattered around the plot: I found some borrowings from “Romeo and Juliet”, “Zorro”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “V for Vendetta”, “The North and the South” – the list might be continued! I am also curious about the future clash of spirituality and technology in Equatoria – it really sounds good!

Last but not the least: both male and female main leads are very likeable. There is no romantic triangle in view (well done!). I found Princess Adele to be a compassionate, resourceful, and truly kick-ass heroine despite her high position. The Greyfriar turns out to be far more complex than an ordinary “Zorro-type” hero who saves damsels in distress (and I really can’t write anything more because it would be a huge spoiler).

What I didn’t like:

I must admit it – some of the scenes were a bit cheesy, kind of taken straight from a B class adventure movie (or a graphic novel). I also hope there will be more politics and less slaughter in the next parts– I do understand some fighting scenes are necessary in such a book but honestly, after a while you might feel a bit tired by the cadavers and the carnage. It is good when the characters can plan and think, not only wield a sabre.

The final verdict:
So far so good but let’s wait for other installments – it is supposed to be a trilogy, after all! Three stars and a half.

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