Friday, December 10, 2010
I had every reason not to even read The Greyfriar, let alone like it – heck one of the reasons is right in the title: Vampire. Now, I enjoyed Buffy The Vampire Slayer (for a few seasons at least) but the preponderance of Vampires in urban fantasy has completely turned me off to the subject matter (and I wouldn’t have called it something I was interested in even prior to that – being more of a scifi guy). Then there’s the hints of steampunk on the cover – a genre I’ve admitted having very little exposure to, and having mixed feelings about the only steampunk book I’ve previously read. And even though the cover is striking, I had put it aside thinking this just wasn’t the right kind of book for me. Except… I started to see some preliminary reviews that indicated it was really good; something different. Suddenly, I wanted to see what all the noise was about – and besides, I could put it aside after a hundred pages or so if I didn’t really care for it. Only I couldn’t put the book down. I read it every spare chance I could get (which can admittedly be tough, especially in the middle of the holiday season). It’s a story of an alternate Earth where about 150 years in the past the Vampire race rose up from their hiding and swept over parts of the world. Since that time, Vampires and Humans have been in a perpetual state of cold war – with skirmishes and plans on each side to eliminate the other. The Human race has been relegated to the equatorial region of the globe, because Vampires prefer the cold (and the dark, though they can survive in the light, it’s the heat they don’t like). The British Empire has remade itself in Alexandria, where there are plans to unite the heir to the throne, named Princess Adele, with a Senator from the second great power, the United States, in order to form one great empire and focus them all on their common enemy. Adele is aboard one her family’s airships (a combination zeppelin/sailing ship of the air) observing the borderlands with the Vampires of the north, awaiting the arrival of her intended when the Vampires make a bold move and attack, intending to capture her. She’s rescued by the enigmatic Greyfriar, a kind of Zorro or Robin Hood well known by the humans both in the equatorial region and those who still find a way to live in the northern lands. Greyfriar has had success battling Vampires when few else have, but even he can’t keep Adele out of their hands for long when so many are massed against him. Soon Adele finds herself in the very heart of the Vampire lands, in London, where she must contend with a Vampire Lord who no longer has all his facilities, and the Lord’s two sons who are both vying for power in their own ways. Cesare is the ambitious second son, not the heir but the one who has arranged this daring kidnapping – with the intent of gathering all the Vampire clans in a war against the humans (by forcing the humans to come rescue Adele, and thereby making a first-strike against the Vampires). The elder son, Gareth, has no interest in making war against the humans – in fact, he seems far more interested in learning about their culture from Adele. And soon she’s learning a great many things about the Vampires and the humans of the north from him as well, turning on its ear many of the things humans have long taken for granted about Vampires. But will what she learns help her destroy the Vampires, or help her to stop the impending war between these races. Meanwhile, just as expected, her intended plans a daring strike into Vampire territory to retrieve her – a move bound to accelerate hostilities. At that moment, Greyfriar makes his move and rescues the girl himself from a deadly encounter with a Vampire Warmaster named Flay, a woman who has lost against Greyfriar many times and is just itching for the chance to finally kill him. My description doesn’t do the book justice, and in fact probably doesn’t even cover half the book – though I can’t go too far without revealing some of the secrets, which are better left to the reader to discover on their own. Sure I guessed some of the plot points that were to come, but at other times the story turned in directions I never saw coming. I loved the ways in which Vampire lore was both incorporated and at times discarded – that lore is there, but some of it is just made up by humans and assumed to be true. At the same time, religion holds some power against the Vampires – in a kind of magically oriented way where churches are locations of a power of sorts, and certain humans are capable of wielding that power in different ways, including a cloak that Vampires can’t see through and lighting them on fire with just a touch. But better than all that, the characters are such well rounded full bodied people, they all feel real and none fall into a one-dimensional trope of being just the hero or just the villain. This was a case where everything just came together really well, excellent world building to create this fantastical setting along with exceptional characters. This is the kind of writing that just makes reading such an enjoyable experience, where dialog sounds real and shades of grey permeate everyone. I felt like when I first discovered Sharon Shinn (the writing style feels very similar to me) or a host of other writers whose work I’ve gone on to follow for years – and like those times in the past, The Greyfriar is one the best books I’ve read this year; and I highly recommend it, even to the most skeptical of you out there. I personally can’t wait to read book 2.
Posted by Jim Haley at 12/10/2010