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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Greyfriar - Clay and Susan Griffith

As I was nodding off last night to the thundering pops of at home fireworks outside my window (northeast D.C. thinks the 4th of July lasts for a week), I couldn't get Disney's Beauty and the Beast out of my head. Beautiful Belle is trapped in the Beast's castle and held against her will. During her imprisonment Belle comes to see the Beast for what he is and not what he looks like. He's smart, gentle, and compassionate. Outside the castle, Belle's suitor - Gaston - plots to "rescue" her. In truth, Gaston is a blowhard who only wants to free Belle to pump up his own ego.

After twenty minutes or so of pondering, I realized that I couldn't get Beauty and the Beast out of my head because I'd just read it. Only Beast was a vampire in a book called The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith. Of course the realization came at the same time my neighbor set off a screamer, so my epiphany was accompanied by me falling out of bed - not terribly impressive.

In 1870, vampires rose up to become the dominant life form on earth.  This event would come to be known as The Great Killing.  150 years later free humans only exist in enclaves near the equator where vampires refuse to live.  Adele, princess and heir to the largest of these enclaves, has been captured by Prince Cesare, the most notorious vampire alive.  Not everything is at it seems in the world of vampires, and Adele soon comes under the protection of Cesare's brother Prince Gareth.  Now, she's a piece for both sides in a chess match that's sure to lead to open war between vampires and humans.  The only thing between Adele and a gruesome death are Gareth and a mysterious entity named the Greyfriar.  Can they keep her alive long enough for her betrothed, Senator Clarke, to come and rescue her?

So the plot of a fantasy novel is retread?  Right, no one is surprised.  There are more examples of recycled material in fantasy novels than almost any other genre.  As long as there's enough to otherwise entertain a fantasy yarn can get away with some unimaginative storytelling.  By and large, I think Greyfriar accomplishes that.

I maintain that world building is the most important aspect of a novel in the speculative fiction genre.  So many blemishes can be covered up by a world that stimulates the imagination in a new and unique way.  The Griffith's blend a fully realized alternative reality earth complete with imperial borders, political infighting, and magical powers.  They also up the ante by providing something fresh to the vampire narrative by tossing out many of the stereotypical "vampirisms" to create a more realistic (lol?) interpretation.  It's my opinion that they pull of this off near flawlessly providing such a great backdrop that the underwhelming plot becomes an afterthought to the world's epic scope.
Your neck looks so tasty, Belle!

Outside the not-so-imaginative plotting, my complaints are two fold.  First, two real places featured heavily in the story - the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle - just aren't well drawn.  I've been to both of these places and neither were described in a way that made them come alive.  I'm not sure what the point was of naming them as real places given their lack of ambiance.  Both of these places are as haunting and impactful as a place can be.  None of that really came through in the writing.  Second, there's just a too much Twilight going on between Adele and Gareth.  It's pretty well done and there's a great deal of action to keep things butch enough for male readers (yes, a generalization, sue me).  Still, in this post-Twilight world vampire/human infatuation is going to near impossible to pull off without some serious eye rolling.

To use a ridiculous metaphor, Greyfriar is to books like Big League Chew is to chewing gum. I mean it's no Bubblelicious, the unquestioned king of gums. Nor is it like a black licorice gum with nuanced flavors. It's not even one of those gums that's like regular gum until it's bitten into and there's that squirt of liquid whatever it is. Nope. It's Big League Chew - simple, fluffy, and a little overwhelming after an extended chew. It's not a gum that's meant to be chewed every day (unless exhausted jaw muscles are the end game), but there's nothing wrong with occasionally shoving a big wad of Big League Chew into your mouth and endangering your ability to breath.

So where do I come down on this book anyway?  To be honest, I'm not really sure.  This definitely isn't the kind of novel that I gravitate toward with the, how can our love survive the gulf between us malarkey.  Still, there's a pace of action, and a depth to the world that are impossible for me to ignore.  For anyone who enjoys romance, action, and some blood sucking - The Greyfriar is a great choice.  It hits all three of those things out of the park and provides enough that I will absolutely check out the sequel, The Rift Walker.  Looking for something with a dynamic plot or lustrous prose?  Eh, I might look elsewhere.

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