Having returned from her misadventures among the Vampires who have invaded Europe, Princess Adele finds herself being swept into a political marriage in order to more closely align her people (of the Mediterranean region) with the Americans. A plan has been devised by her father and her husband-to-be Senator Clark, one in which they will become mass murderers on a scale never before imagined – as they will depopulate Europe and North America of all humans, thus depriving the Vampires of their food supply. From her experience with the Vampire clans, Adele knows this will only make them more desperate, escalating the conflict to even greater heights – but no one will listen to her.
The Vampire clans under Cesare plan to strike at Adele on her wedding day, and only the vampire Gareth (as Greyfriar) has any hope of coming to her rescue. Finding themselves on the run from her own people, Adele and Gareth go deep into the heart of Africa, where they will come face-to-face with another Vampire clan. There Adele will discover that she may have the power to tap into enough mystical energy to destroy all the vampires, and Gareth will have to choose between saving a woman who may cause the extinction of his entire people. Meanwhile, traitors within the court of Adele’s father have allowed the Vampire hoards within the catacombs beneath Alexandria – and while they may have been denied the chance to kill Adele, they can still strike at her father, brother, and anyone else who might stand in their way.
If you didn’t follow any of the above, that’s because this is the second book in the Vampire Empire series, and it really shouldn’t be read until after you’ve first read The Greyfriar. While the authors do attempt to catch the reader up, many of the most surprising turns in this book will be completely lost on any newcomers to this book. Also, since that was one of my favorite books last year, you should just do yourself a favor and read it.
For those who have read The Greyfriar, The Rift Walker is everything the first book was and more. It’s the best kind of sequel, building on things from the first book, adding new pieces of information, and ramping up the action at the same time. There is a strong sense of the swashbuckling pulp stories of old with this book, especially as the Greyfriar comes sweeping in to Adele’s rescue in the midst of her wedding. It also felt a little like the recent Mummy movies to me, as Greyfriar and Adele traverse the desert in search of sanctuary, finding ruins and meeting new allies along the way. As they find themselves swept into a local war against a Vampire Clan in the Mountains of the Moon, Gareth starts to remember things from his own youth as he watches the interactions of these Vampire families. It’s a great touch to the book, as the reader is treated to a brief flashback sequence showing Cesare and Gareth with their father Dimitri.
All the secondary characters really come into their own in this novel as well, as roles that were only hinted at in the first book are greatly expanded in this one. Something that didn’t get a whole lot of description in the first book were the elements of steampunk, but that has been corrected this time around. Not only are the airships used more frequently, so too are steamships on the river Nile, and more details of various weapons. This steampunk element also makes for an interesting addition as it becomes evident that there is a divide between characters who are technocrats (belief in the power of steam) and those who are religious (who believe in the mystical forces).
I’ll fall back on some of the same things I said about book 1; I find the writing a pleasure to read, it’s easy to lose yourself in the style and I was quickly immersed in the story. I can’t think of anything negative to say about The Rift Walker, it is exactly what I would have wanted to see in a sequel. I wouldn’t say the first book had completely sold me on steampunk (frankly, it needed more to impress on me that it wasn’t going to be more of the same Vampire stories being popularized right now in fiction), but the second book more than accomplished that. In fact, while my prior exposures to this genre didn’t really give me much of sense of what to expect, now I see that the setting is such that it makes the use of swordplay (over gunplay) more prevalent, bringing an aesthetic more like The Three Musketeers but with more potential to add in weird science and magic. That’s something I can certainly get behind, especially since it relates so well to one of my other favorite settings, Star Wars. I think I’ve blabbered on enough about The Rift Walker at this point. It’s a great book, in a great series, and well worth checking out. I can’t wait to see how it’s all resolved in the third (and final) book of the Vampire Empire trilogy.