Monday, February 25, 2013

The Kingmakers (Vampire Empire #3) by Clay & Susan Griffith

 The war has begun, Equatoria’s armies are moving into Europe to reclaim their long lost lands from the vampire clans and free the herds of humanity reduced to squalor, enslavement and an early death.

But the delay has been costly, it’s a winter campaign rather than summer when the heat makes the vampires sluggish, even with the best weapons at their disposal it’s clear the cost of lives is going to be extreme. Unless Empress Adele’s skills at geomancy can tip the scale and be their ultimate weapon – but at what cost?

Of course, they could adopt the American tactic of slaughtering the humans and starving the vampires, but then, who are they liberating? And is it even right to commit genocide against the vampires, including their own children? Beset by these hard questions Adele also has to consider what future she has with Gareth, especially as Gareth looks to his own people and the potential of him taking Britain’s crown now his father is dead.

The war has begun, but the questions of how to fight it, how to win it and the cost of it remain to be seen.

A big epic showdown but it was so slow. I can’t even put my finger on exactly why it was slow, I think it was several elements. We had pages and pages devoted to single battles. Pages and pages to Adele’s angst over the Greyfriar and the difficulties in their relationship. Pages and pages of the Greyfriar’s own angst, pages and pages – actually pages and pages about everything. I think everything that happened and everything anyone felt in this book had to be accompanied by a rather long winded internal monologue.

I don’t know if this has always been the style of this series because I don’t remember being frustrated by it before. But I think the problem here is that the book is reaching a culmination of epic. There’s a literal war going on. The Equatorian Empire has invaded southern Europe, they have armies in France and the Balkans, thousands of people are dying – and against that backdrop we have the Greyfriar, Gareth, cooking eggs for Adele. Was it a lovely scene? Yes, it was, it was cute and romantic and funny and endearing – but epic conflict is happening! At the beginning the war was front and centre, an epic battle, a grand conflict, a huge show down brewing, but then the rest of the book veered so very far away from it. It became a very personal book of Adele and Gareth – and it was a book very much about their emotional states and various other feelings.

Many of these scenes weren’t bad – like Gareth visiting the King of Paris (a scene that ended up pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of the novel), or, as I mentioned, Gareth cooking for Adele. Adele re-uniting with Morgana. Adele talking with Sanah. Anhalt sparring with Senator Clark. Senator Clark’s war in the US. They were all good scenes, albeit overly written with too much monologue, but they were great in their own right for character development and exploration and just plain fun with this world and these people who I enjoy. But they weren’t relevant to the plot – if they were removed the ending would be exactly the same as it was with them. Some of these scenes would have been wonderful to include and to underscore the difficulties the characters faced – Anhalt’s worry over Adele’s recklessness, Gareth and Adele worrying about the morality of the war, the difficulty of them having any kind of relationship and Adele becoming ever more isolated by the the necessities of state – but all of them together was just too much.

Even on the topic of the war, there were many quickly resolved mini-scenes that could have been relevant but were brushed off so quickly: the ruse about Simon’s assassination, the opposition questioning the motives of the war, the industrialist traitor, the Undead, – all of these could have been relevant to the war but they were resolved so quickly that they had no real effect and, again, the ending would have been no different if they weren’t included.

I think that may be the crux of why this book was slow – beyond the internal monologues, the creeping angst and the personal, emotional scenes when entire continents rested in the balance – there’s the fact that so many of these scenes, while good on their own, aren’t relevant to the overall plot. They’re interruptions, they’re intermissions and they all ended up not mattering.

Because there’s the ending. And yes it was sweet and yes love conquered all and the guy who probably shouldn’t be alive was alive but damn he deserved to live and I’d have been upset if he didn’t. It was neat but it was satisfying in many ways… but ultimately the grand victory was won because Adele was just That Damn Special.

Not because of any of the events in the book, not because of anything she did, not because of anything she planned, not because of the intricate schemes she worked with Gareth, not because of the bravery and sacrifice of Anhalt, not because of the brave fighting of the men, not because she caught the industrial saboteur or managed to put Gareth on the throne or defeated Flay or defeated Cesare or because of an alliance with Paris or – well, not because of ANYTHING any of the main characters have done in this book. Or, for that matter, not because of anything the main characters have done in the last 3 books.

Victory was won because Adele was dragged somewhere against her will and then Her Shiny Special Woo-Woo kicked in and did Shiny Special Woo-woo stuff she didn’t entirely understand but it was Shiny and Special and they all lived Happily Ever After. Everything they did in the book was invalidated by one great big Deus Ex Machinae. Aaargh, after all their fighting all, their courage, their sacrifice, their epic feats – after Anhalt’s incredible moment aboard the American ship, it was all invalidated! All their worries about genocide against the vampires as well as their herds? Brushed over. All that masterful, epic development is just wasted.

It was supposed to be a satisfying, fluffy ending and, in a way, it was. But I was unsatisfied, I couldn’t stand that all of the epic battles we’ve had come down to such a simple ending. Magic Girl is Super Magic, we win. To say I’m disappointed is something of an understatement

Inclusionwise, it’s still very straight, but the POC have greatly increased in number and relevance. We have more references to Adele’s Persian and Egyptian ancestry, as well as more overt influences on Equatorian culture, architecture and clothing. We not only have General Anhalt in a less subservient role (albeit still extremely devoted and subservient to Adele) but we also had a large number of other POC not just in the army, but also in the government and in Parliament; they’re not confined to a servile role or to the role of the mystics, it’s clear Equatoria has a large POC population at all levels. They also raised the interesting question of the necessity of going to war with vampire held Europe – while a major goal of several of the white characters with European ancestry who fled to Equatoria, those of African, Middle Eastern and Indian descent had far less motive to throw away so many lives and money to reclaim lands lost over a century ago. It wasn’t developed as well as it could be, but ultimately it was clear that it was more a matter of humanitarian saving the people being tortured and massacred under vampire control than for lost lands and titles because most Equatorians simply didn’t care about lost European territory; something the leader of the opposition, a Somali, makes abundantly clear.

There’s some more wonderful debate about the morality of the war, especially the idea of taking the easy option and killing lots of humans the vampires are preying on – which, when considered with the above, begs the question as to why they’re even pursuing the war at all. But there’s further question about the morality of wiping out vampires entirely – especially in a world where vampire children exist.

Some interesting issues are raised here with this – but they’re not debated enough and, ultimately, are rendered moot by the magic girl woo-woo.

So, some epic scenes – which were rather irrelevant. An awesome world, some great characters – but some bad pacing issues and an ending that is a severe disappointment. I’m disappointed, I wanted to enjoy the book, but couldn’t; I wanted to skim half of it and when I reached the end I wanted to throw away my tablet in disgust. It had some brilliant, shining epic moments – but, alas, only moments.