Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff from @HarperVoyagerUK #BookReview #Fantasy #GrimDark #Horror
Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
HarperVoyager, pb, £6.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Gabriel de León was only a child when the sun sets for the final time. Vampires came with the darkness, bringing violence and heartbreak, destroying cities, and murdering or enslaving the population as they did. For Gabriel, it revealed the truth of his parentage, human mother and vampire father, leaving him with two choices: to revel in the dark gifts of his father and become a monster or dedicate his life to the pursuit of destroying vampires. A silversaint, a sworn brother of the holy Silver Order
Twenty-seven years later, Gabriel is the last silversaint held captive by the monsters he had sworn to destroy and forced to recount his story from the greatest warrior to their prisoner.
I will warn you now: if you like your vampires cosy, like Twilight, this is not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for something like Game of Thrones mixed with The Witcher with vampires, read no further but immediately get yourself a copy because it is brilliant.
Told exclusively from Gabriel’s point of view, we learn how the sun sets, never to rise again, and the steady sweep of vampires across the landscape, indiscriminately murdering everyone they come across. The mythology behind the vampires, their strengths and weaknesses, is rich and very familiar, as is the faith that Gabriel is a member of the Holy Order. There are recognisable links to Christianity with a wheel instead of a cross and angels whose likenesses the silversaints have tattooed on their bodies. These tattoos act as armour for the silversaints, and they fight half naked so the vampires are blinded by the light of the silversaints faith.
The vampires themselves are disease, spreading their sickness whenever they bite someone, and there is no telling whether their victim will rise again as a pure vampire, die, or be some feral abomination to be commanded. The vampires also have different skills depending on their bloodline, powers of persuasion, mastery over animals, and impenetrable skin. However, all of them are brutal, with no respect for age or gender, and there are some quite graphic scenes of torture and murder. You have been warned. There is also a lot of swearing, not something that bothered me. I felt it was in context, but others might be offended.
For me, Empire of the Vampire stood out because I felt as though vampires hadn’t been the monsters they originally were in recent books, not something to be feared because the wide-eyed innocent heroine would bumble her way towards becoming a badass and victory. In short, I felt vampires had no teeth. In Empire of the Vampire, they have teeth and are not shy in using them. There is no pause in the action, except when the vampire chronicler Gabriel is addressing breaks his narrative. Gabriel moves from one fight to the next with minimal grace as he uses every trick to survive, and the dialogue is as brutal as the fighting, which I found refreshing. All conversation was necessary and to the point, as are the bleak and fantastical descriptions. This book might be over 700 pages long, but it is never boring.
Ultimately, Empire of the Vampire is a story about faith, loss and redemption. Gabriel’s character arc goes up and down as the humans revere him for his successes, but those successes come at a heavy price. With the fast pace and twists and turns, you’ll struggle to put it down. But once you have, don’t be dishearted because the second book, Empire of the Damned, is coming out in 2024, so we won’t have long to wait for the conclusion. Highly recommended.