The Greyfriar, an interesting blend of steampunk, alternate history and paranormal fantasy, introduces us to a British Empire that has relocated to North Africa after a hugely successful assault by organized armies of vampires. Humankind now lives in areas of the globe that offer the greatest chance for survival and resistance to the vampire threat. (This felt very much like the setting of S.M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers in which Britain relocates to India after England was destroyed by a comet.)
The Vampires in The Greyfriar are similar to humans; scientists use the term Homo nosferatii to differentiate between the species. One of the biggest differences between them is that humans consider vampires to be loathsome wild animals — not the cultured, physically perfect sex objects that are so popular in urban fantasy today — and vampires consider humans to be merely food.
The Greyfriarfollows the adventures of Princess Adele, the heir to the Equatorian Empire, as she comes into conflict and eventual war with a large clan of vampires. Adele is rather cliché: a physically gifted noblewoman who is free-spirited, strong-willed… we have read about her many times before. She becomes involved with a legendary warrior, the Greyfriar, whose exploits in combating vampires and campaigning on their home turf makes him a hero.
Other characters include Prince Gareth, a vampire prince who is not your typical bloodthirsty killer; Senator Clark, Princess Adele’s fiancé and a heroic vampire fighter from the Western Hemisphere; Mamoru, Princess Adele’s spiritual advisor; and Prince Cesare, the leader of the clan of vampires that is hunting Princess Adele. These are interesting characters, but at times I wished that the Griffiths would not allow us omniscient interaction with all of them. Sometimes I knew too much of the thoughts and motivations of everyone, and the story might have been more compelling if fewer characters were completely revealed.
An important theme in The Greyfrier is the conflict between science and religion. Mankind, for the most part, has turned its back on the religious convictions that it had previously held and that may not have been wise. In essence, faith and religion are somehow tied into a magical world that has been previously unknown by all but a few. I am guessing that this storyline is going to be increasingly important in future books.
On the whole I really enjoyed The Greyfriar. It was a lot of fun to read — interesting characters and plenty of adventure. I really look forward to the continued technology versus magic theme. As a first installment in a series, The Greyfriar is wonderful.