16 setembro 2011

Review: The Greyfriar

Publisher: Pyr (2010)
Format:  Paperback | 301 pages
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Science-Fiction
Description (Goodreads): "Vampire predators run wild in this exciting steampunk adventure, the first in an alternate history trilogy that is already attracting attention. In 1870, monsters rise up and conquer the northern lands, As great cities are swallowed up by carnage and disease, landowners and other elite flee south to escape their blood-thirsty wrath. One hundred fifty years later, the great divide still exists; fangs on one side of the border, worried defenders on the other. This fragile equilibrium is threatened, then crumbles after a single young princess becomes almost hopelessly lost in the hostile territory. At first, she has only one defender: a mysterious Greyfriar who roams freely in dangerous vampire regions."
I was torn on how to rate this book; should I give it three or four stars? I liked it enough to give it four, but the its structure is flawed enough to earn it only three. While "The Greyfriar" was a pleasant read, there were things I didn't like much. I ended up giving it three stars, but I can tell you it was pretty close to four. Maybe it's because I haven't read many steampunk books or the fact that I loved the authors' characterization of vampires.

The story takes place in 2020, in an alternate reality. At the end of the 19th century, vampires came out of the shadows and attacked the human populations of the North. The humans, unprepared were beaten and driven out of Europe and North America. They established their empires in the South where the warmer climates protected them from the vampiric threat.

150 years later, the status quo is still in place. Humans in the North, dominated by vampires are little more than cattle; in the South, great human empires were born fueled by steam and oil. Neither race is strong enough to attack. That is, until princess Adele of the Equatorian (British) Empire agrees to marry Senator Clark, a powerful man in the equally great American Republic. The union is seen as a threat by the vampire clans and Adele is in danger.
When her ship crashes in the North, she is rescued by the Greyfriar, a mysterious rebel who fights vampires in their own territory.

As I said before, I enjoyed this book. It was an interesting read, with decent world-building (not very original, sure, it is a typical steampunk-ish society) and a few good characters.

Still, it took me a while to get immersed in the story. The first few chapters weren't very interesting for me as they focused on battles and the introduction of the main characters: Adele, the Greyfriar, Flay and Cesare. I was pretty bored with the substandard and cliched action scenes and unimpressed by the Greyfriar. Princess Adele seemed to have potential, though.

Half the book later, I started liking it more and more. Adele is trapped in the North and gets to learn much about vampires and their culture. The book really shined then, with descriptions of vampire anatomy and customs and how they differed from humans. The two authors managed to portray their vampires in an original and intriguing way and when Prince Gareth was introduced I was much more interested.

It was also halfway through the book that the romance (very subtle and well done) was introduced. It may have been part of the reason why the second half appealed to me more, because the romance seemed to add depth to the plot which had, until then, been little more than skirmishes and blood. I loved the sort of "Beauty and the Beast" feel of the book, with Gareth eager to learn more about humans and Adele realizing there was more to vampires.

Of course, there was still action and fights and blood (this is not a 'girl book', after all), but I felt the plot had gained with the introduction of the romantic story and the consequent development of the characters.

I didn't particularly like the Greyfriar, he didn't seem to have much personality... which is understandable, given his identity. I liked Princess Adele well enough and loved the fact that Gareth kept a gazillion cats. I wasn't too fond of Clark, which is probably what the authors intended; I just wish they hadn't been so obvious about it. Clark is pretty one-dimensional, only there to make us root for the couple and little else.

Overall: this book is definitely a solid start to the trilogy. The quality of the narrative seemed to fluctuate a bit and I thought the first half of the book a little boring and simplistic. The second half is better, with marked character development. It almost seems like these two parts were written by different authors (maybe they were, at that) trying to appeal to different readers (male and female perhaps) which would be okay if they blended seamlessly... which they don't. Still, I liked this book and will probably read the sequel.

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