Review: The Greyfriar

Posted: May 11, 2011 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith, Fantasy

Clay and Susan Griffith’s novel, THE GREYFRIAR (Amazon) — the first novel in their Vampire Empire series — has been receiving all sorts of rave reviews. Naturally when a novel gets that much good press, it grabs our attention. At that point our only option is to read it to see if the hype is justified.

The first thing we decided was that THE GREYFRIAR should probably be marketed to the female readers in the Urban Fantasy crowd. The reasons why become readily apparent the further into the book you read. But more on that later–we just felt we should get that out of the way right from the beginning.

The world Clay and Susan Griffith have created is an alternate history of our own world that has drastically altered the future. In 1870 a vampire apocalypse–called the Great Killing–drives humans basically out of the northern hemisphere. In this world vampires can’t cope very well with heat, so the surviving humans retreat to the tropics to rebuild their civilization. Fast-forward to the year 2020. In a steampunk-like society, the two major nations of humans are on the verge of joining together through an arranged marriage which in turn will mark the beginning of humanity’s efforts to eradicate the vampire menace.

The novel starts off terrifically. The Griffiths give the readers a fairly good idea of what things are like in the world. From airships, to politics, to the way vampires are portrayed. In those first few chapters we get some good world building, and some good character introductions. And then BAM, huge action sequence. We get a good sense of the absolute horror these people feel when encountering the monstrous vampires.

But for us, this is also when things go wrong.

The main PoV of THE GREYFRIAR is Adele, the heir to the throne of the Equatorian Empire. Along with her only sibling–the royal backup plan should Adele ever die–Adele is on a tour of the border lands of her Empire. Even the characters in the novel comment on how dumb of an idea this is. “Yeah, let’s send out our only two heirs to the dangerous borders of our nation. What could possible go wrong?” There was really no need for it, and the consequences aren’t even really explored (indeed it introduces a plot hole later). When the initial action sequence gets moving, Adele is obviously placed in a ton of danger. Vampires attack her warship, sending it crashing to the ground. The terror is everywhere. Her brother is attacked. Things seem hopeless.

Enter the Greyfriar. A vampire killing masked-man whose true identity is unknown. He saves Adele while killing his way through the vampire aggressors. He seems oddly strong and quick. He is Adele’s Zorro.

THE GREYFRIAR is mediocre because it takes the safe route in its storytelling.

And thus begins the most predictable plot progression we’ve seen in a novel this decade (well, apart from the recently released THE UNREMEMBERED… but at least THE GREYFRIAR wasn’t a total plot ripoff of another novel). From the instant the masked Greyfriar is introduced, we predicted EXACTLY how the plot would progress. Look, we’ve all read this story before. Damsel in distress is rescued by masked man. But why is he masked? Why, to cause conflict and a breach of trust the instant he shows the damsel his true visage. Can you connect the dots from here? You should be able to. It was utterly predictable all the way to the very end with the requisite “It has always been you” moment. The female demographic really seems to be the group loving this romantic story, and that’s fine. It wasn’t until we forced ourselves to think of the novel as chicklit that we could reconcile many of our problems with it.

The problem is that it was the absolute safe route. No risks were taken in this novel. None. And that right there is the single most disappointing aspect in this novel.

Were there other annoyances? Definitely. The Griffiths seem to bounce between 3rd Person Limited and 3rd Person Omniscient when ever the mood suits them. Action sequences were the biggest offender. The Limited sections were written so much better than the Omniscient ones, and we hope that they learned from this experience and write the next novel in pure Limited. Another problem? In the ARC we read a character is seemingly paralyzed in one scene, then running around the next. Hopefully we just read that wrong or it was corrected in the final release. Also, there are times when distances seemed accurate when characters were running around England, and other times when they just didn’t add up. Lastly, we really don’t like the title. Vampire Empire? Ugh. Throw in GREYFRIAR and say it all as fast as you can. And we’re really getting tired of the never-changing Chris McGrath covers (not the authors’ fault, obviously).

It’s a real shame there were this many problems with the novel because there were also some really great moments. The description of the violence was perfectly brutal, and the action scenes that stuck to the Limited PoV were pretty awesome. Descriptions were great, especially of London. While the characters were a tad flat and predictable, there were still interesting for the most part. The overall pacing of the novel was very quick and fluid when it wasn’t getting bogged down by eye-roll inducing moments.

When we initially finished the novel, we didn’t like it at all. However once we allowed a little time to pass and decided this was targeted more at females than a true male/female split demographic, we softened our opinion a little. This series still has plenty of promise, and many of the things we had problems with obviously haven’t bothered a large chunk of readers. This is one of those novels that for us is mediocre. Will you like it? Tough call. We recommend you read it for the potential it has and decide for yourselves.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Not really
  • Violence: Tons, usually well done
  • Sex: The world of this novel is very much entrenched in the whole Victorian “we are all super proper” way of thinking. Sex isn’t openly discussed.


  • koshr says:

    Could you suggest one or two urban fantasy series to me aside from dresden or castor. (pls no chick in boots beats up stuff)

    • I'd suggest Larry Correia, SM Peters, EE Knight, and Simon R Green's Nightside series. Sarah Pinborough's A MATTER OF BLOOD turns into Urban Fantasy/Horror by the end of the novel and is freaking awesome. Dan Wells' John Cleaver novels could be considered Urban Fantasy due to the supernatural element.

      Urban Fantasy is kinda a catch-all term now due to how much it sells. You can fit anything in there you want.

    • Mitch says:

      So i'm guessing this is the next stepping stone for people who just finished twilight?

      @Koshr I would suggest Night Watch by Sergey Lukyanenko. It has a darker tone then most and takes place in modern day Moscow so it goes without saying it has a depressing feel to it and vodka can be considered a central character. I rather enjoyed it.
      @Steve Would love to see a review of Night Watch.

    • Dan Smyth says:

      The Black Sun's Daughter series by MLN Hanover–a pseudonym of Daniel Abraham. Unclean Spirits is the first one. Fourth comes out this November. I've loved this series, and I'm not all that big on urban.

      • koshr says:

        that cover looks like chick in boots beats up stuff ^^

        • Dan Smyth says:

          It does, absolutely, and I should have warned you about the cover. It's pretty much the case that people who read urban fantasy have come to expect that kind of cover. What's inside though, for me, was anything but the expected. And, I haven't yet had a single person that I've suggested this series to come back and tell me they didn't like it. In fact, their responses have been quite to the contrary. Feel like taking a gamble? I'd say the odds are stacked in your favor…

    • Vanessa says:

      @kosher Also the Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin. Main PoV is a guy.

  • Kevin L Nenstiel says:

    I can't help noticing that the guy on the cover suspiciously resembles Aidan Turner, the actor who plays the vampire Mitchell in the BBC's “Being Human.” Coincidence? Or an emblem of limited imagination?

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