Empire of the Vampire, #1: Empire of the Vampire
By: Jay Kristoff Audiobook: 27 hours 11 minutes
Published: September 14, 2021 Narrated by: Damian Lynch
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
You are Gabriel de León, Last of the Silversaints, (Sunset).
Vampires are one of the most popular “monsters” in narratives. And, this was before the “success” of The Twilight Saga; even before movies and TV shows, Dracula and other books about vampires became popular with readers. During the past few decades, vampire narratives have diverted away from them being monstrous bloodsuckers (i.e. Interview with the Vampire) to romantic interests (i.e. Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter). There is not an issue with the latter per se, but every once in a while we need a reminder about vampires being the former. Jay Kristoff—coming off his revenge epic fantasy trilogy, The Nevernight Chronicle—presents to the speculative fiction community Empire of the Vampire—the first book in a new trilogy of the same name—which is about a vampire apocalypse.
The protagonist in this book is Gabriel de León, a former member of The Silver Order of San Michon; a Silversaint, a Warrior of God and nemesis to all vampires. At the start of this narrative, he is awaiting execution for murdering the Forever King, Ruler of All Vampires. There is a mystery to Gabriel de León due to 2 reasons. One, no one else has come close to killing the Forever King before; and two, there were rumors de León was no longer an active member of The Order. So, what happened? Marquis Jean-François of the Blood Chastain, Historian of Her Grace Margot Chastain, First and Last of Her Name, Undying Empress of Wolves and Men, is sent to de León in order to collect his story for their archives. It should be mentioned de León is extremely stoic and extremely nihilistic; he neither has faith in God nor faith in the Order he once fought for. That being said, de León is surrounded with awe for the man he was and for the man he is; unfortunately, he does not seem to be satisfied with killing the Forever King, hence why Jean-François is sent to write de León’s life story: to learn about the man beyond the representation. However, Jean-François learns quickly de León started off as other Silversaints, who was led to believe in the cause of the fight, only to be betrayed and excommunicated by them. On top of that, de León has become a bitter pessimist with nothing left to lose, except his life. And yet, he remains extremely calm given his circumstances.
There is 1 plot which is presented in two-fold. Gabriel de León tells his life story, but it is NOT a straightforward account. Instead, de León splits his story into 2 parts: his early years and his recruitment and rise within The Silver Order; and, when he leaves his family and his quiet life abruptly to go in pursuit of the Forever King. These are 2 very different accounts from 2 different moments in time told by the same individual. de León refuses to give any other explanation besides he’s the one telling the story, so he gets to tell it however he wants. There are 2 subplots in this narrative, and they are essential to the plot (and the world-building). The first subplot concerns the prophecy surrounding the Holy Grail, which is supposed to bring an end to Daysdeath—no sunshine—after 27 years. There are 2 questions regarding this prophecy: one, who came up with the prophecy? Two, is the prophecy believable? The second subplot regards de León and his “talents.” Besides being one of the best warriors of The Order, de León may or may not have a “vampiric ability,” or “bloodgift”; however, at this moment in de León’s account, it is unknown what the talent is, or if it’s even an ability to be taken seriously. This subplot is relevant because it ties into de León’s identity, which was a mystery to him for so long. The plot and the subplots develop at an appropriate rate and contribute to both Gabriel de León’s character and the world-building, which become central to the story.
The narrative in this book is presented in 2 different styles. The moments when Gabriel de León is recounting moments of his life, he tells it in 1st person and in the present. When that narrative break and it is de León and Jean-François talking to each other, it is in 3rd person limited. These differences are essential to the narrative because the audience knows what de León is thinking as he presents his history, but we don’t know what’s going on in his head when he breaks away from his memories and confronts his current predicament. Then, there is the question of whether or not de León is a reliable narrator. This is because we get Gabriel de León’s stream-of-consciousness of the past, but we are left out of his thoughts in the present. There is no way to determine otherwise, so we have to assume he is a reliable narrator. Another thing to know is, yes, the sequence within the narrative jumps back-and-forth amongst the present and 2 moments in the past, which can be confusing to follow at first. However, it doesn’t take long for the audience to be able to follow the narrative easily.
The style Jay Kristoff uses for Empire of the Vampire is not new to readers of speculative fiction, or his previous (adult) series. There have been epic fantasy series which have been written as a historian or a chronicler would if they were assigned to collect a recount of events. This is a creative style for storytelling until the audience realizes what is presented to them might not consist of all of the facts and might not even be true. This is when the audience—and, at times, the historian or the chronicler—understands they could be reading and/or hearing a false testimony. Unfortunately, unless there are at least 2 individuals who can confirm some of the testimonies with identical accounts, then there is no way to determine whether or not ANY of the testimony is true. This is the reality within the fiction. The mood in this novel is deliberation. Gabriel de León is told to tell his story, but the way he presents his account of events allows him some control during his imprisonment. The tone in this novel is melancholy. de León comes across as a dejected individual which does not match the legacy he has created for himself in the past. Yet, as the story continues, a lot of things begin to make sense, including de León’s demeanor. The edition of the book I own contains numerous illustrations which enhance the story being presented to the audience. The map and the illustrations are excellent, and they embellish the reading experience, and I recommend everyone to get an illustrated edition of the book, eventually.
The appeal for Empire of the Vampire have been immensely positive with 63% of the ratings being 5-stars. And, the book was one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2021. This novel is epic dark fantasy, but it is a paranormal fantasy, with elements of horror as well. Jay Kristoff describes his book as “what would happen if Interview with the Vampire (R.I.P. Anne Rice) hooked up with Name of the Wind in an S&M club while all eight seasons of Game of Thrones streamed in the background (consecutively not simultaneously).” I’m going to add the background for the protagonist in the Blade comics to this description. In a nutshell, fans of those books—in addition to A Chorus of Dragons, and yes The Twilight Saga—should read this genre-blended book. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator, Damian Lynch, sounded exactly as I believed Gabriel de León would sound. I hope he does the narration for the rest of the books in this trilogy. There is some time before we learn of when the second book in this trilogy is due to release, so get a move on with reading this book.
Empire of the Vampire is an excellent re-introduction to the variants of vampires. Jay Kristoff gives his readers a story with characters who choose life over duty with a strong disregard for the consequences within a familiar fantasy trope with a twist which will leave you craving for the next book in this series. Vampires have returned to speculative fiction, and THEY DO NOT SPARKLE! These vampires WILL KILL you and enjoy doing it! These are the vampires we need to fear! Go read about them!
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!