It has been twenty-seven years since the sun last rose and with the darkness came monsters. Humans have lost the war against vampires, who now rule the land. Gabriel de León is the last of the silversaints, a holy order dedicating to fighting vampires, and this is his story.
I know I said I was over Jay Kristoff’s writing, but then he went and wrote a vampire book and I just could not resist. The thing is massive and I was a bit daunted by it, but then I ended up with two special editions and it would be silly to not even attempt it.
The tone of the book is quite grimdark for my tastes but I did get into it and enjoyed the story, despite the rather hopeless situation humanity seems to be in. These are not likeable vampires, they are vicious and cruel, some mindless monsters but others are ancient and unstoppable.
The silversaints are all half-vampires, but they are rounded up before they do anything too bad, and trained as holy soldiers. I found the part about training to become a silversaint went on a bit long, especially as it kept jumping forward to a point where it got more interesting briefly before going back to Gabriel harping on about how he had to redeem himself and how he had no special skills… I preferred the part about the ragtag bunch of characters who band together on a mission to find the grail.
There’s no misery so deep as one you face by yourself. No nights darker than ones you spend alone. But you can learn to live with any weight. Your scars grow thick enough, they become armour.
Eventually lots of subplots come together and I found the pace picked up a lot towards the end. Gabriel is not as hardened a character as he might seem at first and there are glimpses of emotional content amongst all the violence and swearing. I liked the mythology, I think it kept the core aspects of vampires but added some new angles. For example the silversaints smoke a distillation of vampire blood to help stave off the cravings for blood, they are addicts of a sort.
Empire of the Vampire is illustrated throughout by Bon Orthwick which was a nice touch. Jean-François is drawing the characters in the story, and these are what the illustrations are meant to be. The way they are printed in the book meant the tonal contrast wasn’t great, they are quite dark because the originals were in colour that didn’t translate well to black and white. You can see some of the originals online though and they are quite lovely. It would have been nice if they could have used a different printing technique for the illustrated pages, but I guess that would have increased the cost.
Astrid was just as fierce a scholar as I was a swordsman. A girl who wielded books like blades.
The framing device didn’t quite work for me. Gabriel is telling his story to a vampire holding him captive, so the whole thing is spoken and the speech marks round the narrative threw me off in places. Eventually I got used to that but Jean-François kept interrupting him asking him to tell the story as if to a child, so that he would explain things that the vampire would clearly know. The idea was that he was writing down as if a story but if the vampires were so confident in being the leaders for the rest of time, why would they need vampire stuff explained to them?
If you are not prepared to start a new series of chunky instalments, this book stands perfectly well by itself. Things are not left hanging, though with all the worldbuilding done, I can see there is space for more stories in this world. I liked it, but I am not sure I would carry on if all the books are so long, as I did feel it could have been edited down a bit without losing much.
Oh and be prepared to do some weight training if you want to read this in hardback! I kind of regret not getting it in ebook. 🤣
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