Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Greyfriar - Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

About the Book

Vampire predators run wild in this exciting steampunk adventure, the first in an alternate history trilogy that is already attracting attention. In 1870, monsters rise up and conquer the northern lands, As great cities are swallowed up by carnage and disease, landowners and other elite flee south to escape their blood-thirsty wrath. One hundred fifty years later, the great divide still exists; fangs on one side of the border, worried defenders on the other. This fragile equilibrium is threatened, then crumbles after a single young princess becomes almost hopelessly lost in the hostile territory. At first, she has only one defender: a mysterious Greyfriar who roams freely in dangerous vampire regions. 

ISBN: 978-1-61614-247-6
Published by: Pyr
Pub. Date: November 18, 2010
Author Website

Thanks to the wonderful people at Pyr for sending me a copy of this book to review.
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I guess I should start this review with a confession. While I harp on urban fantasy quite often, I really do have a soft spot for the idea of shifters, vampires and their ilk. I just get sick of these nightmare characters being tamed by the desire of some ultra jaded-yet-gorgeous female character that works as a policewoman/investigator of some kind. What happened to the vampires I remember from my childhood; you know, the one’s who’d rip your face off, or the shifters who will break through your window and munch on your femur late at night?

I approached The Greyfriar with some trepidation. While the promising reviews (many from reviewers I haven’t expected) have excited me and worked to pump up my anticipation level, I still can’t ignore the recent trend to glitterfy vampires and tame supernatural’s and yes, it’s jaded me. Thus The Greyfriar had to work twice as hard to impress me. I have to admit that I put the book down feeling very satisfied, which is a feeling I just don’t associate with vampire books anymore.

The Greyfriar starts with a somewhat uncomfortable narrative tempo and the main character, Adele, seems far younger than she really is, the authors quickly whip the book into shape. Adele, the character that the reader will spend the most time with, is quickly and quietly developed and turned from an innocent young woman to a formidable adult. This makes The Greyfriar a coming of age tale, among other things. The character development that takes place in this book, not just with Adele but other leading characters as well, really should be noted. The authors don’t amble around with their characters. They know exactly who they want each member of their cast to be and they waste no time using their literary surgical knives whipping each character into the shape they need to be in and fully rounding them out.

The Greyfriar is an interesting mix of old ideas and new concepts. There is the inevitable uber bad guy and a main character that is more than she seems as well as some hidden identities and great reveals; but these old concepts are balanced nicely by new concepts. For example, vampires don’t have to hide in the shadows anymore. They made their move into the limelight and took over large swaths of the Earth in the process, thus igniting a war between the human and vampire empires (hence the series title Vampire Empire). The formidability of the vampires and their empire mixed with the humans who struggle for survival against these predators line up quite nicely to add an interesting mixture of tension to the plot.

Though many of the plot elements are quite new, that’s not the say that this book is completely unpredictable. While many of the plot twists are satisfying (if a touch predictable), it doesn’t diminish from the overall enjoyment of the book as a whole. It’s hard for authors to manage the careful balance the Griffith team has managed here. While the book was predictable, they kept it satisfying and quickly moving, never crossing the line into the "I think I've read this about a hundred times before" zone. Weighing in at around 300 pages total, this is a book that can be read in a matter of hours. That should say something about how engrossing and absorbing The Greyfriar can be.

Another aspect of the book I feel I should mention (if it’s not already obvious) is that The Greyfriar takes place in an alternative, steampunk world roughly 100+ years after the vampires rose up for the “Great Killing.” Humans live in the equatorial region where it is too hot for vampires to comfortably survive while vampires live in the colder north. This is interesting for several reasons. First, the alternative steampunk world is very well done complete with air ships but balanced with enough fantasy elements (like old school kings and emperors and hints of magic) to keep the reader’s attention. Second, the steampunk world combined with the human and vampire weaknesses create a really interesting dynamic between the two extremes in the Griffith’s world. It’s a world where neither side really understands the other, and when a dividing line as wide as the one between vampires and humans exist, knowledge gets warped and forgotten. This plays quite a large, yet subtle role in The Greyfriar, and the Griffith’s cultivate it well.

While it should be obvious that I really enjoyed this book, it’s not absolutely flawless. For one thing, much of the book is composed of reactions to events, rather than planned action to control events. While this does help lay the groundwork for the world, characters, and series as a whole, it also gives The Greyfriar a somewhat rambling tone that can be mildly frustrating at times. Another thing to note is that, while the supporting characters are interesting and add color to the world, they aren’t nearly as well developed, colorful or fleshed out as the main cast and crew. With a little more direction to some of the plot and dialogue, and well fleshed out supporting characters, this book could easily fly into five-star zone.

In summary, I found this book to be an interesting combination of old and new ideas nicely packaged in an alternative steampunk universe. The political aspects, misunderstandings and lead character development should be noted, as it was very well done. Furthermore, the content is such that this book is a good YA/Adult crossover, allowing it to appeal to a wider audience than I initially expected. Though not all of the plot elements were unpredictable, but they were all satisfying and paired up quite nicely with the ending. This book does have some flaws but they are incredibly easy to overlook. Give The Greyfriar a chapter or two and you’ll probably be as hooked as I was. It’s almost impossible not to be. The Griffith team is putting their own unique spin on vampires, and if all the aspects are not completely unique, it’s worth a read. The Greyfriar is a fun book that has something to satisfy almost anyone.

What excites me the most about this book is that it’s the first in a trilogy and it really shows flair and promise. Unless this author duo really messes up in future installments (which I don’t predict), this series can only get better from here. “Better” excites me. I enjoyed this book so much as it is that the thought of anything more nearly sends me into heart palpitations.

4/5 stars

5 comments:

  1. Vampires! I'm not a friend of vampires. BUT I will definitely read this book. It is the mix of ingredients that counts. I expect the delivery of my copy within this month (depends on the weather ... so much snow and ice in Germany).
    I highly recommend to listen to following podcast:
    Episode 037 Clay & Susan Griffith over at The Functional Nerds. Patrick Hester and John Anealio interviewed Clay and Susan Griffith.

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  2. I keep forgetting to listen to that! I have it downloaded and waiting... thanks for reminding me!

    I'll be excited to see what you think of this book when you read it. I know you are a fan of steampunk, but not so much of vampires. It'll be interesting to see what you think of it when it's said and done.

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  3. Thanks for the review Sarah - I'm looking forward to reading this myself.

    Happy holidays to you and your family.

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  4. I have been hearing some really good stuff on this book. And I'm glad to see you enjoyed it so. Says a lot. Thanks! Hope you have a happy holiday. :)

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