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Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned by Jay Kristoff

Harper Voyager, pb, £8.27

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

For over 30 years, the world has been cast in darkness when the sun set and shadow covered the land. The vampires, without the sun holding them back, unleashed their cruelty on humanity, enslaving most and those still free, huddling together in fortresses, barely surviving. Silver saints became a beacon of hope, half-human, half-vampire; these men have the strength of their vampire parents but have pledged themselves to protect humanity. But the silver saints are all gone except for Gabriel de Leon, the last silver saint and a disgrace to his order. Once the pride of the saints, he is now a drunk and emotionally unstable, struggling to cope after years of witnessing atrocities and committing murderers. However, he is the preferred bodyguard of the Grail, the descendant of God whose blood has the power to restore the sun and destroy the vampires forever. But in this world of death and destruction, who is left to tell Gabriel how to achieve this? It may already be too late.

For those of you who read my review of Empire of the Vampire, the first book in this series, you’ll know how much I loved it. It was a gut-wrenching punch in the stomach of violence and bloodshed. The story is the epitome of grimdark. The world is bleak and hopeless, as expected, after vampires take over the world with humanity downtrodden, abused, and traumatised. Even the silver saints are tarnished, suffering from a blood hunger that grows until they become the thing they hate the most or commit suicide. Empire of the Vampire was the dark vampire story I had been yearning for my whole life. It was going to be a tall order for Empire of the Damned to continue in the same vein, but it does and sexier too.

We start a few nights after Empire of the Vampire finishes with a scene that helps us understand the vampiric world as it stands now before going back to Gabriel, who recounts the events after the end of the first book. This time, we have another voice joining Gabriel’s in telling us the story, not the Grail’s, but another character’s (no spoilers). In the same way as Gabriel, this other character tells the story of the Grail from their point of view and calls into question everything Gabriel has told us.

In Empire of the Damned, we see the shapeshifters from the Ossiann Highlands properly for the first time. They were hinted at in the first book, and one character was from there, but we didn’t see much of their culture. However, we got enough to understand they were Celtic-like clans with pagan beliefs. This time, we get a lot more of them and see how they fit into the world and what they have to offer in this fight against the vampires.

The imagery is vivacious, capturing the essence of each scene perfectly. One moment stands out, particularly when a captured silver saint is presented to a vampire lord with all his silvery tattoos removed and filled with ash, so he is the antithesis of what he was meant to be. There are still luscious pictures depicting key moments in the narrative, bringing everything together. My review copy has blank spaces where some pictures should be, so you can guarantee I will be treating myself to another copy with all the pictures.

 The battle scenes are loud and chaotic, full of screams, blood, and dirt. The death scenes are heartbreaking and poignant and, in some cases, so meaningless that it’s shocking how casual it is. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, which I also have said about the first. The pace is the same reckless charge from one moment of danger to another without a break. I was constantly on edge, and there was no saggy middle to disrupt my immersion.

I fear no review would be long enough for me to put into words how much I enjoyed Empire of the Damned. I could talk for hours about all the things I enjoyed, how cleverly the two books are woven together or the moment of desperate hope I felt on the very last page, the character development, the revelations, the questions answered, and the new questions posed. Even as I write this review, I am questioning whether I could rejig my TBR pile so Empire of the Vampire and Empire of the Damned can go back to the top for a reread. If you loved The Witcher, Game of Thrones or 30 Days of Night, then Empire of the Vampire and Empire of the Damned deserve a place on your bookshelf.

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