Vampire Empire: The Kingmakers by Clay & Susan Griffith
My Rating: 3-1/2 of 5 Stars
The Kingmakers is the 3rd and final installment of the Vampire Empire trilogy. I have read many glowing, nearly rhapsodic, reviews of this book, but for me, it was definitely the weakest of the three. I really enjoyed the first book, The Greyfriar, Vampire Empire Book 1. It was my first introduction into a steam punk world of dirigibles and steam engines, and an alternate history of the planet. It also had the most charming of swash-buckling heroes in the mysterious Greyfriar. I gave it a solid 4 stars for captivating me with the characters and the world building, even though the writing is less than brilliant at times. Still, it was fun, and I was eager to read the second book, The Rift Walker. I liked that book a bit less, though the level of intrigue was higher. It didn’t have the same magic for me that Book 1 had, and this third book was weaker still, in my opinion.
Part of it is that the writing was even less strong, but also, the focus on greatly detailed battles caused the first half of the book to bog down and move way too slowly for my tastes. Some reviewers loved those scenes, but I really just wanted to get on with the relationship between The Greyfriar and his beloved Adele. Call me a hopeless romantic, but the dynamics between the two of them interested me more than flying “steamnaughts” and giant robots, driven by riders inside, a la the movie Aliens.
Though the series was fun, and I’m glad I read all three books, since I was really interested in getting to the Happily Ever After part, there was one subtle but persistent thread that was an annoyance all the way through. Specifically, an anti-American theme that was thinly disguised, but ever-present. It started with one character who was the most blatantly overdone and heavy-handed example of the classic Ugly American you ever saw. Now, I realize he was meant to be a bad guy, and I was fine with that. It’s just that he was a hit-me-over-the-head kind of loud and arrogant ass that I could barely stand to read about. I would have preferred it if his faults had been a bit more subtle, but the in-your-face approach is what the Griffiths went for. Okay, I just tried to overlook it. But worse than this guy’s obnoxious loud mouthed personality were the little references to how bloodthirsty and crass Americans in general were.
Don’t get me wrong. The Griffiths are entitled to their opinion of America and Americans. We aren’t perfect, by any means. Still, it is off-putting to feel disdain for my country seeping into the fabric of the story, even though it was subtle, as I say. And, as I have mentioned before, I do not enjoy politics of any kind popping up in my fictional escapist reading. I have plenty of non-fiction political history books on my shelves for when I want to read about that subject. For one thing, I can’t take anyone’s opinion on what’s going on in the world today seriously when I’m reading a book about body density altering vampires who float above the earth, and descend in blood-thirsty hordes to rip, slash, and brutally murder humans, referred to as their “herds.” Vampire books, werewolf books, zombie books, you name it…just leave out the politics, please, especially if you plan to sell lots and lots of books in a country you have so little regard for. Some of us WILL notice.
So I had that little irritation going on, but I really loved the character of The Greyfriar, and I wanted to see how it all turned out. I stuck with the book, and overall, was glad I did. There were finally even some honorable, self-sacrificing Americans at the end, who bravely gave their all for the good of humanity. They sort of made up for the Ugly American and his so-called bloodthirsty country; therefore, I’m trying to be open-minded about the earlier slights. It was just hard to see Americans being portrayed as idiots, while Persians are portrayed as intelligent, caring people, who play a big part in the salvation of the world. (For those not up on their history, Persia is the old name for Iran.) So try as I might, these little things were very bothersome to me, but in the interests of “art,” I pushed them to one side as best I could and soldiered on.
The story was still imaginative, The Greyfriar and Adele were a great couple, and the concept of geomancy was new to me and very interesting. All in all, the writing wasn’t particularly strong, and the political slant was a bit off-putting for me, though probably not noticeable to everyone; but the world-building was fun, and The Greyfriar was a touching and sweet character, perplexed as he was by humanity, and striving so hard to understand us.
Bottom line, there are enough fun things in the series to make me recommend it to those who like the genre, and won’t be offended by subtle touches of real life bias slipping in here and there. While many reviewers like the third book best, due to the non-stop action, I prefer the first one, which dealt more with character studies, and which had long periods of quiet discovery. It was less exciting, perhaps, but more touching. If you decide to give the series a go, stop back by here and let me know what you think. I welcome discussion on any of my reviews, especially if you have a different take on things.
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