Downloaded from Audible. Narrated by James Marsters
Synopsis: In the Vampire Empire, free humans have been pushed out of the more northerly climes of the world and are living in a monarchical and steam-punkish society in the warmer areas of the planet (vampires apparently like it cold). The humans are close to initiating a second war with the vampires in order to reclaim their historical homelands. Princess Adele is heir to the throne of Equatori, the Human empire, and is on one last publicity tour of the northernmost reaches of her kingdom before her political marriage to a prominent American politician, when it all goes horribly wrong.... Amidst all the chaos that ensues, she encounters the Greyfriar a mythical human folk hero who has become legend by fighting and killing vamps in the heart of their northern empire. He's also got a couple little secrets.
I've been quite excited about starting this book for a couple of months; the story looked like a potentially fun romp and James Marsters (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame)was narrating. In the end I wouldn't actually call it fun or rompy necessarily but it is jam-packed with action starting practically on page one. Adele very quickly meets the fabled greyfriar but almost as quickly falls into vampire hands. There's a lot of confused scrambling back home at the news of her abduction with introductions to her blowhard fiance Senator Clark and her teacher/enigmatic magic guy Mamaru (no idea how to spell this name since I listened). The story is bloody and violent and there are many descriptions of dire and gruesome fight scenes.
Despite all this action and adventure, it took me quite a while to get into the book. I probably didn't start developing any appreciation until Adele escapes from London to Scotland. This is roughly 2/3-3/4 of the way through the book. I felt like I didn't start to get to know the two protagonists until this section of the book when the story slows down a little and lets us and the two characters spend some time together. Most of the secondary characters in the book are either incredibly unlikable or one dimensional or both and we spend a lot of time with them through the first 3/4s of the book getting the world set up and all the players in place. It felt very shallow though at the same time quite full of itself. Once we reach Scotland we start to get some true character development and we get more analysis, through Adele's changing perceptions, of both the vampire and human societies and she starts to realize that all is not black and white.
Some things I did appreciate finally. That the authors didn't take the relationship too fast, that Adele's perceptions of the world shifted in a pretty natural way and that this sets up an interesting conflict for her in future installments, that the imperial humans and the vampires are pretty much equally awful but in different ways.
One final critique, that I feel pretty bad about because I'm a fan of James Marsters, and I'd heard lovely things about his narrational powers but I was not overly impressed with the narration. I think the narrator really needed to be British - Marsters reads the book in his own American accent which does not fit (accept, of course, for the Americans). And the accents he does do are quite frankly, weak at best. The book seems like it would be quite a challenge to narrate as it has so many accents: British, Scottish, French, American, Japanese, Indian and uh... folks descended from the British (I think) but have been living in Egypt for the last 100 years.
By the end of this wild and kinda bumpy ride I decided I liked it. I think if the book had stopped before the turning point I mention a couple paragraphs up I would have given it 2 stars and likely not gone on to read the rest of the series. Now I'm intrigued enough to see what the sequels will bring. I do hope they replace Marsters on any future audio but if not, I'll pick up the books.