(This is a repost, in part, of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)
Publisher: Pyr (November 18, 2010)
Sucked of life, this steampunk, vampire mash-up misses the mark.
Vampires have taken over the world, ruling with a clawed fist. Humanity's hope lies with a marriage of two nations, a "mysterious" freedom fighter, and a princess that is more than she appears.
The Greyfriar is an alternate reality steampunk, vampire extravaganza where the famously fanged monsters have always existed. In the 19th century they massacred the major nations of the world, establishing an empire where humans were enslaved like animals to do their bidding. The civilized remnants of humanity fled to the lands of the equator where the inhospitable climate kept the vampires at bay. The humans rebuilt: developing impressive dirigibles and firepower as they trained armies and prepared for the day they would take back the land of their forefathers.
That's a great premise with the promise of convoluted politics, gritty, epic battles and supernatural beings pitted against the ingenuity of man. Unfortunately, the execution suffered when the heroine, Adele, falls in love with a man of mystery who loses his mystique almost instantly. Adele quickly turns from a prim and proper lady to a sword master, which begins an incessant allusion to her having great power and being the savior of mankind; the proverbial Chosen One. While I love heroes tasked with saving the world, I don't need to be reminded every couple pages. And that is the book's prominent failing: it over-explains. Not everything, but more than enough.
One of the best parts of the book was Senator Clark, a bigger-than-life character that takes no flack from anyone and who will not accept defeat despite the odds. He remains true to himself (arrogant), even if no one else does.
I'm in favor of character arcs about change, but the changes in this story were more about trying to cram the characters through a set of specific obstacles in a certain way, rather than working with the characters they naturally developed. There was a level of revision that was missed, I think, that should have either changed the adventure or characters themselves. And the prose, which seems more fitted towards the authors' comic book backgrounds, never quite flows.
As an aspiring, professional writer I am very familiar with the Golden Rule of "Show, don't Tell." For everyone else this is simply the act of writing a scene so the reader understands the action, emotion, and so on without explicitly being told what they should think or envision. A good example would be to scare the reader (Show) instead of telling them that something was scary (Tell). I wanted to feel the emotion raging in some scenes, hunch my shoulders with the tension of gripping action, but The Greyfriar was merely dull. Not a surprise, perhaps, since the omniscient narrator felt it necessary to kill any sense of surprise or mystery. Every little detail is revealed to the reader well in advance of the need to know it. The Greyfriar just feels like a debut novel that will appeal more to hardcore steampunk and/or vampire fans.
Safe to say, I'll need some convincing to try book #2. For it’s lackluster execution I give it 2 bloody stars.
This was my first PYR book and after all that I've heard I was expecting to be blown away, but I'm hoping to change that with a read of James Enge's Wolf Age, or perhaps Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Now I just need to get my hands on one of them.
What did you think of the book? And do you have any favorite books by PYR you could recommend?
Side thought: I'm not aware of a good third-person omni POV book, but I'd love for someone to point one out so I can see how it can be done. This one didn't work. In fact it felt more like third limited with constant head jumping.