Review of The Kingmakers by Clay and Susan Griffith

October 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The KingmakersThe Kingmakers (Vampire Empire #3)
By Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith; Narrated by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 29 January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 49 minutes

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy / post-apocalpyse /

Publisher summary:

The Kingmakers is the long-awaited climactic end to the Vampire Empire trilogy.Bogged down by winter warfare in Europe, humans are suffering crushing losses to the surprisingly well-organized vampire clans of the north. The courage and commitment of the Equatorian troops and their allies cannot hold out against the overwhelming onslaught of the enemy.Treachery from within deals the Equatorian forces greater damage than any delivered by the vampire hordes. The only weapon left capable of smashing through enemy lines and annihilating the packs is the Empress Adele herself. Her geomantic talent and skills are formidable, but she is just one person, and the very forces she can bring to bear are also slowly draining her of her life-force.Prince Gareth, the vampire lord of Scotland, known as The Greyfriar to the humans, both slave and free, is at a loss. His brother, Cesare, has outmaneuvered him at every turn. Brilliant, ruthless and without honor, Cesare is confident in his ability to control destiny. His goal is to become king of kings and ruler of the world. Unless the rightful heir, Gareth, can prevent him from assuming their father’s throne, Cesare’s unified vampire clans will destroy Equatoria’s forces and set humanity, if it survives, back a hundred years.

This is the third book of what we could call a steampunk vampire trilogy. I still like the first book the best but this one competes with the second as far as things go. The story once again carries a strong sense of Beauty and the Beast mixed with Romeo and Juliet with a strong steampunk flair. If you liked the first two books, you’ll like this book since everything wraps up rather nicely in the end. One ding I had was that I still didn’t think there was a satisfactory explanation of why Gareth is different from the other vampires. More on that…

This book is very similar to the previous two books to the point that they kind of blur together in my mind when I think back on it. The steampunk aspect is kicked up a notch with some mech suit / tanks in this one but you’ll mainly see lots of swordplay, gunfire, goggles, and airships again. These are some of the things that kind of run together on me mainly because many of the same characters are involved in similar scenes but the overall plot obviously moves forward to a satisfactory conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong – there are many good things that have carried over from the previous two books. The language and prose used in the previous books still give the feel of characters stuck in the past caused by the vampire attack. The action is crazy and fun with lots of epic battles ranging across Europe. The characters are likable for the most part, although Gareth can be a bit one-dimensional sometimes (His primary motivation seems to be his love for Adele to the discount of everything else).

Speaking of Gareth, I still don’t understand why he is different from all other vampires (I guess you could say his manservant shares his values but he also seems kind of like he’s reluctantly dealing with a neurotic master). There was this whole explanation about how Gareth’s father didn’t like wasting things but that doesn’t seem to explain how he could go from seeing people as food to loving a human to the level he does. Even his friend in Paris held similar values but not to the extremes Gareth does. I’d hoped for something like what happened with Angel on Buffy but it was kind of left out there.

As for the audio side of things, I still enjoyed James Marsters’ performance this third time around. He speaks well, uses recognizable voices, and is a pleasure to listen to. I would say that I’d go out looking for books narrated by him, but that’s why I listened to this trilogy in the first place ;-).

Posted by Tom Schreck

 

Review of The Rift Walker by Clay and Susan Griffith

September 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Rift WalkerThe Rift Walker (Vampire Empire #2)
By Clay and Susan Griffith; Read by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy / post-apocalpyse / humanism /

Publisher summary:

The Rift Walker is the second installment in the Vampire Empire book trilogy. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this tale of courage, sacrifice, and heroism takes place against the backdrop of an age of steam and rational humanism, where the social elite have rejected religion and spiritualism as nothing more than quaint superstition.

Brutal Vampire Clans rule half the world keeping human herds for food, and Princess Adele, heir to the throne of Equatoria, is faced with grim choices. War is imminent and her marriage to the odious Senator Clark of America will cement an alliance uniting the Equatorian Empire and the American Republic. This integration of war machines is to be the opening volley in the campaign to reclaim the Northern Hemispheres. Unfortunately, Adele’s betrothed has a bloodthirsty war strategy, one the Princess finds as repulsive as the actions of the vampires they fight.

Moments in advance of the Princess’s marriage to the Senator, the Geryfriar, legendary champion of the human resistance, rescues Adele before vampire assassins can murder her. While on the run from the agents of Prince Cesare, the acting Clan Lord of the Northern Vampires, Adele seeks to discover a way to protect her beloved Equatoria and prevent the genocide Clark intends to implement, all while trying to free herself from an unwanted marriage. Meanwhile, Cesare’s agents have struck deep at the heart of Equatoria and will stop at nothing to keep Adele from ascending to the throne.

Treachery abounds; friendship, loyalties, and allegiances are tested. Will Princess Adele be able, with the help of her beloved Greyfriar, her devoted guard and faithful officer Anhalt, and her mentor Mamarou, to turn the tide before human civilization is forever shattered?

This review is going to read a lot like that of the first book in the series, The Greyfriar. If you read that book and enjoyed it, you’ll like this one too. Where the first book was kind of (Zorro + Beauty and the Beast + Vampires), this one kind of leans more toward Romeo and Juliet. The protagonists love each other but everyone from their respective houses pretty much hates on the other. Wrap all that up with another fantastic narration by James Marsters and this book is over before you know it.

I still like the way these books are written. The vocabulary and use of idioms gives the story an older feel that matches the semi-steam punk world where the story takes place. More of the less important characters even show a bit more depth in this story which was pretty nice. I like that there was clearly a bit of a plan in writing the trilogy and that some things were revealed in this book that I was wondering about since the first one.

I had some minor plot issues with the story but overall the whole thing went by very fast. This is in the description of the book so whatever: I don’t understand why the Greyfriar swoops in to the save the princess when he uncovers a plot to kill her and her betrothed….instead of trying to save them both or ration out the situation without making frenemies. I’m sure it’s something like “all he could think about was saving her” or “he didn’t know who to trust” but the way it was carried out didn’t really work well for me. There were a few other moments like this but they’re minor gripes at best.

As for the audio side of things, James Marsters did a fantastic job. You’ll once again hear many voices you recognize from Dresden but I didn’t have any problem keeping things straight in my head. I started this series because it’s read by him and I’m definitely not sad at the decision.

Book 3 here I come!

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

August 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The GreyfriarThe Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1)
By Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith; Narrated by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: April 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

1870. A time known as The Great Killing.The vampire clans arose and slaughtered humanity with unprecedented carnage in the northern parts of the world. Millions perished; millions were turned into herd animals. The great industrialized civilizations of the world were left in ruin. A remnant fled south to the safety of the ever-present heat which was intolerable to vampires. There, blending with the local peoples, they rebuilt their societies founded on human ingenuity, steam and iron.The year is now 2020. The Equatorian Empire, descendant of the British Empire, stretches from Alexandria to Cape Town. Princess Adele, quick witted, combat trained, and heir to the throne, is set to wed the scion of the American Republic, a man she has never met. Their marriage will cement an alliance between the nations and set the stage for war against the vampires in an attempt to retake the north. Prepared to do her duty, she finds herself caught in a web of political intrigue and physical danger. The Greyfriar, a legendary vampire hunter from the north, appears ready to rescue the Princess and return her home—but he harbors secrets of his own. As the power struggle between the vampires and humans increase, Adele and the Greyfriar are caught in the middle, on the run, being hunted and fighting for not just their own lives, but for the future of humanity.

The Greyfriar is a surprisingly good book. I listened to this book mainly because I like James Marsters as a narrator and wasn’t sure what to expect from the story. The authors came up with an interesting way of treating vampires that thankfully does not involve making them out to be some sex symbols as seems to be the norm these days. The story makes use of several familiar tropes but they are combined to good effect and in such a way that the story was quite good. The authors’ prose and choices of wording give the book an aged tone that fits the setting of the story.

The premise of the story is that vampires attacked in great numbers just before humans had the industrial revolution and much of the human populace has been wiped out. There are some surviving empires/governments that have lasted the 100 or so years since the attack and mankind is ready to go to war to reclaim what they’ve lost. The story is not urban fantasy but more like…vampire steampunk as best I can describe it. The humans aren’t so advanced in technology that they completely outclass the vampires and the vampires aren’t so powerful that humans can’t have some successes in fighting back.

Vampires in the Vampire Empire series are not exactly your normal vampire – and that’s a good thing. Much of what you and I would think are traits of vampires turn out to be silly human superstitions cultivated over a century of fighting and/or staying isolated from them. They don’t die in the sun, they have retractable claws and fangs, can change their body mass so they can fly, can heal rapidly, etc. These traits leave the authors plenty of room for aerial fights on air ships and all kinds of fun scenes.

While I liked how the groundwork for the world was set up, the characters themselves were probably the weakest part for me. Everyone except for a few of the main characters were fairly one dimensional and caricatures of the proper English nobility, the American cowboy, etc. The main characters make up for this in how they grow through the course of the book but man. The majority of humans harbor some strange prejudices on vampires that’s kind of hard to believe (the biggest for me was that they seem to think they’re not much more intelligent than animals). This was a stretch just because they’re clearly in contact with people who know better and have plenty of evidence to the contrary. These were minor complaints and I’m still looking forward to starting the next book.

On the audio side of things, James Marsters does not disappoint. I have enjoyed his performances in the Dresden series and you will hear many similar voices to what he uses there. His characters are easily distinguishable and his narration is clear.

Posted by Tom Schreck