Book Review: “Empire of the Vampire” by Jay Kristoff (@HarperCollinsAU @misterkristoff @monolimeart @EasternRegional)

Empire of the Vampire (HarperCollins Publishers, September 2021) by Jay Kristoff

Back in the days when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books were trendy, U.S.-based horror writer Stephen King had to launch a comic series called “American Vampire” (published by DC Comics in March 2010) to shift the focus back to those “stone killers that can’t get enough of that tasty Type-A”:

“In the end… it’s all about giving back the teeth that the current ‘sweetie-vamp’ craze has, by and large, stolen from the bloodsuckers. It’s about making them scary again.” (Note: Quoted from King in “Suck On This”, introduction to American Vampire‘s first five issues, written on May 8, 2010, and exclusively published by Entertainment Weekly. HERE is my attempted translation in Traditional Chinese.)

If you, too, prefer vampires as cold-blooded midnight hunters waiting to be invited into your house, you will definitely enjoy Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff, Australia’s own #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction.

The stunning 736-page illustrated dark fantasy features Gabriel de León as the very last Silversaint, a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending humanity from the vampires, who have been ravaging the realm for nearly three decades.

The whole story takes place in one night, within Gabriel’s prison cell, where he is forced by a vampiric historian named Jean-François to tell his life story. The two constantly quarrel, adding much fun and philosophical musing to Gabriel’s storytelling.

The “story within a story” offers a glimpse of Gabriel’s inner world, from his miserable childhood as a bastard-born, not knowing his heritage as a half-blood vampire, to his entry to the monastery of San Michon to train as a warrior.

But he is a flawed hero, a highly likeable character who swears as much as he drinks. He is also an addict, relying on a certain drug (of a rather ambivalent nature) to keep his dark half at bay while making the best use of it.

The story jumps from different parts of Gabriel’s life journey, revealing the hardships and atrocities that shaped him the way he is today. This is a reckless and cynical protagonist, a breaker of rules with a wicked sense of humour and a formidable perception of justice. Yet it is his loyalty to families and friends that drives his life.

The story is full of blood and gore, heart-wrenching horror, and thrilling actions and adventures – perfect for fans of the vampire genre. But it is also filled with “legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won”, as Kristoff describes it. To paraphrase the author, although the story goes to “very dark places”, there is a strong thread of hope through it.

Particularly noteworthy are the exquisite illustrations by Melbourne-based digital artist Bon Orthwick. Says Kristoff: “I wanted the illustrations to be more than just a gimmick – I wanted them to serve a narrative purpose, and breathe a different kind of life into the story. [Orthwick] captured that idea and the aesthetic of the world perfectly.”

Empire of the Vampire is a detailed survey of vampires, which can be “an object of desire, a power fantasy, an exploration of immortality, a study in morality, or just plain terrifying” (again quoting Kristoff). Without doubt, Kristoff has succeeded in making vampires terrifying again.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “An epic fantasy tale of man vs vampire” by Lilydale Star Mail, March 1, 2022, P.9.

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