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Friday, August 19, 2011

"The Rift Walker" by Clay and Susan Griffith (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Clay and Susan Griffith Website
Order "The Rift Walker" HERE

INTRODUCTION: The Vampire Empire series by Susan and Clay Griffith that debuted with The Greyfriar last year, is a steampunk alt-history in which vampires - homo nosferatus, a parasitic cousin species having powerful physical attributes and living in clans in zones of moderate temperature - banded together and attacked the Northern Hemisphere states in 1870, almost destroying the western civilization.

The survivors retreated south and mixed with the locals creating the Empire of Equatoria -India, S.Africa, parts of Africa, Egypt, the Gulf - with the capital at Alexandria, the American Republic with the capital at Panama City, the Japanese Empire with the capital in Singapore and other smaller states, while free city-states in Southern Europe eke a meager existence, and the vampires have their own states in England, France, Germany, North America, etc.

Fast forward some 100+ years later and an union between Adele, the heir of Equatoria and Senator Clark the hero of the temporary reconquest of St. Louis presages an alliance that plans to start the reconquest of the North with better guns and better ships.

And the story in The Greyfriar starts when on a show the flag mission to Marseilles, Adele's party is attacked by the British vampire clans led by Cesare, the younger son of the doddering king Dimitry, infamous for his "human-cleansing" of Ireland and she is ultimately kidnapped despite the best efforts of the mysterious cloaked resistance fighter Greyfriar.

Cesare's older brother and supposed British heir due to the very tradition bound rules of the long lived vampires, Lord Gareth lives alone in Scotland treating his "humans" much better than the usual vampires since while a hero of the great vampire uprising of 1870, he got sick of the massacres afterward. And of course Lord Gareth who tries to learn about human culture, including learning to write is fascinated with Adele and so the first installment goes in a book that pulled me in and despite all the expected cliches, secret identities and the like,turned out to be big time fun.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I had high expectations for The Rift Walker but I still was surprised how it turned out to be a major step-up in the series. Once I opened it, I could not put it down until I finished it since I just needed to see what happens, while enjoying every moment of it. The novel is end-to-end adventure with everything you want - duels, battles, treachery, intrigue, revelations, not to speak of romance and magic.

Despite being a middle book in a trilogy, The Rift Walker expands its universe considerably with a trip into the African interior as well as an apparition of vampire clans from across Europe and North America, advances the plotline with major twists and turns, reversal of fortunes and unexpected revelations, while ending at a clear stopping point that promises another entertaining tale to follow.

While in the series debut, I thought that Adele and Greyfriar shared the lead well, The Rift Walker is Adele's novel from the beginning to the end, though Greyfriar has his moments too, the most dramatic being his unexpected appearance at a crucial moment, sending everything upside down and letting the pieces fly so to speak.

While there were lots of cool moments before - from Greyfriar meting justice to wayward vampires and their human tools, to Adele going incognito to see the Alexandrian plays about "her adventure with Greyfriar" and having to fight stalkers and evade the ardor of Senator Clark, her intended, who wants his war and the crown of course, rather than the princess herself - once Greyfriar sends everything spinning, the novel just goes full throttle and rockets, though all in a very entertaining, never over the top way. And the princess truly steals the show, though I want you to discover how - the title gives a hint - since Adele's character growth is one of the major highlights of the novel.

Of the secondary characters, Cesare, Flay and Senator Clark have superb scenes, though the whole cast is very entertaining. Just to give one little tidbit - the appropriately named Cesare, has considerably deeper plans than we got to see in The Greyfriar. So for example he started using the human fascination with "vampires as the undead", to create his undead army, namely humans that believe in the myth, so they valiantly fight for the vampires and generally do their bidding, while asking to be "transformed in vampires" by giving willingly their blood, so when they die they return as vampires. Nonsense of course as Cesare knows perfectly well and something that won't work for ever since the dead stay dead so to speak, but very useful for now.

The human "magical cabal" of Adele's teacher the mysterious Mamoru and his associates also intensify their actions and we start seeing why the princess could be the key to everything, though of course there is this little thing of Adele's romance with Greyfriar and her natural reluctance to become the "vampire exterminator" the cabal wants.

The Rift Walker (A++ and top 25 book of 2011 for me) is the most pure fun novel I've read this year, a romp - though with its darker moments too - where each page brings something new and the action is non-stop. Forget that it has vampires if you dislike the trope as I heartily do, just enjoy the steampunk setting, the great characters and the wild ride from Alexandria to the mountains of Eastern Africa and then back to Egypt.


Anonymous said...

Have "Greyfriar" on my TBR pile. So pleased to see an great review of "The Riftwalker". Looking forward to reading the entire trilogy. Will be an unusual trip for me into steampunk fantasy!

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