Greyfriar by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, a husband-and-wife writing team, is the first book in the Vampire Empire series. It is an alternate universe novel, set in a time when vampires banded together and essentially took over the world in the late 1800’s. Humanity, which now lives in the cities closest to the equator where there is the most heat and sun, has finally made enough technological advances that they are prepared to start fighting back. The main protagonist in the story is Adele, Princess and future Empress of Equatoria, and land that encompasses most of the former British Empire. While on a diplomatic mission, Adele’s airship is attacked by vampires. She is rescued by the legendary Greyfriar, a human known for his ability to fight vampires. As she travels through Northern Europe and falls in and out of the hands of the ruling vampire clan, her worldview is shattered, and she learns quite a bit about herself and the vampires she has grown up hating and wishing to destroy.
A unique take on the vampire lore is presented in this novel. Vampires are creatures that a born, not made from humans. They have exceptional senses of sight, hearing, and smell but feel little pain and have a terrible sense of touch that makes it difficult for them to manipulate tools – which is fine, because they are arrogant and find manual labor beneath them, forcing their human “bloodmen” to do it for them. They have retractable claws which they use as a main weapon. They can also fly – sort of? They can change the density of their body, and therefore float and move around with the breeze.
On one hand, I had a bunch of issues with this novel. I’m not sure I ever completely bought into the vampire lore. I respect the authors for trying to do something different, but I think it was too different. I believed almost everything right up until the change their body density to float/fly thing. I also found it unusual that the vampires had no interest in any sort of knowledge – they couldn’t read or write, and didn’t care that they couldn’t. They ruled and conquered by physical strength. Perhaps it is just because I have read far too many vampire novels in which the vampires are brilliant, rich and well-read, using the knowledge they gain by living for centuries to their advantage. The fact that these long-lived vampires had no concept of that seemed strange to me. I wanted this new and different take on vampires to be refreshing, but instead it irked me and took away from the story.
I did enjoy the relationship between Greyfriar and Adele. I felt Greyfriar appeared a bit too vulnerable at points, and it took away from the believe-ability of his character. But I thought their relationship was believe-able and well-written, and that kept me interested in the story. I figured out Greyfriar’s real identity almost immediately, and at first I was annoyed, but then later decided the writers did it on purpose and it worked.
There were these few and far between moments that alluded to some sort of magic. Presumably this becomes more important to the plot in the next novel? Otherwise I can’t figure out why it was mentioned. So little information about it was offered, that I found it annoying and abrupt rather than mysterious. I just wanted to get back to the action with Adele and Greyfriar. The mystery-magic either needed to be more developed or removed completely, particularly the secret meetings. I think moving them to the beginning of the next novel would have been more effective and interesting, and just left the readers wondering why Adele’s prayers have an effect on the vampires. This paragraph was a bit vague, but I don’t want to give anything away.
Overall, this novel was OK and I do plan to read the next one eventually, being interested in Greyfriar and Adele, and how their relationship will grow and change. I give it 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it to fans of alternate history and steampunk vampire novels. I use the term steampunk loosely though – the novel has airships, but that’s about it for typical steampunk technology.