Review: Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

cover of Empire of the VampireEmpire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
St. Martin’s Press (September 14, 2021)
752 pages; hardcover $25.49; paperback $14.99; e-book $14.99
Reviewed by Janelle Janson

“Even the greatest of fools can’t deny the existence of evil. We dwell in its shadow every day. The best of us rise above it, the worst of us swallow it whole, but we all of us wade hip-deep through it, every moment of our lives.”

When I think of Jay Kristoff, I immediately think young adult fantasy series. As much as I love watching fantasy, I am much pickier with books. And to be honest, my preferred fantasy to read is horror, so when Kristoff first announced his upcoming vampire series, I nearly lost my mind. Even though I am picky with fantasy, I generally enjoy Kristoff’s books. But it wasn’t until he mentioned vampires that my eyes popped out of my skull. If you’re anything like me, you have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with these creatures. Of course, there are incredible books like Salem’s Lot, Dracula, and Interview with a Vampire, which I make it a point never to compare. But bottom-line, I will read almost any book with vampires.

Mr. Kristoff promised to deliver vampires of the darker kind. No frills, cutesy crushes, sparkly skin, or victim vampires here. The vampires in this epic tale are old-world style, impervious to emotion, and not always pleasing to the eye. They are terrifying, immortal, and will end human life indiscriminately. If you think about it, there must be an immense burden on a being that lives forever, the same way year after year, indefinitely. Furthermore, humans here are just sustenance, a pack of creatures that exist only for the vampire’s taking. Doesn’t that sound darkly fantastic?

Empire of the Vampire is the first in a new series that has all the makings of one that will immediately hook you. The interview-style format is what reeled me in most. The vampire historian, Jean-Francois, chronicles the life of our main protagonist, Gabriel de León. Gabriel was captured by the new vampire realm and they force him to recount his life. We follow him from a young age, bouncing between timelines. Of course, this is reminiscent of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, but only slightly. It works beautifully to set up a story that’s one hell of a bloodlust ride.

Gabriel is the last of the Silversaints, a brotherhood of warriors sworn to protect the church and all that is holy against the evil lurking in the shadows. But as the sunrise diminished twenty-seven years ago, the brotherhood was no match for these creatures. The vampires took over the world, much like a game of Risk, and now most of humanity is gone. Vampires no longer have to hide in the darkness because the darkness is all around. They finally have their empire.

As we look back into Gabriel’s life, we learn his true origin and how he fits into this epic saga. We visit two timelines, one where he’s young and hopeful, and another where he’s jaded and bitter. We meet longtime friends, past lovers, and arch enemies. Gabriel’s need to be the greatest swordsman, the constant questioning of faith, and the journey to find the Holy Grail is what defines him. Simply put, I adore him. Kristoff writes primo dialogue, as Gabriel has an intelligent wit and a wry way of speaking. He’s captivating, with the heart of a fallen hero, and I ate it all up.

The prose sometimes has a flair for melodramatic, but I still found myself mesmerized. Kristoff’s visceral writing style, vivid imagery, and knack for the macabre made me swoon. To write such scenes in an ominous setting, with blood and mayhem everywhere, and make it beautiful, is true talent. The illustrations by Bon Orthwick are masterfully done and compliment Kristoff’s writing perfectly.

Now, don’t misconstrue me, this is not what I consider horror. This is an adult fantasy series with horrific elements. Although I’ve somewhat enjoyed our author’s past series, Empire of the Vampire takes the proverbial cake. It’s excellent, and I am praying to the vampire gods for the next book to come soon.

Hi, my name is Janelle! I am a voracious reader, freelance writer, and reviewer. Currently, I write for Tor Nightfire and Cemetery Dance. I enjoy reading books from all types of genres, however, I do have my favorites. My first and forever true loves are horror, thriller, and true crime. I read my first Stephen King book at age seven and I’ve never looked back. In addition to books, I enjoy art, coffee, and all things animals. I am a firm believer that animals are better than people and deserve this planet more than we do. I am a true crime sleuth and a dilettante puzzle solver. I currently reside in Northern California with my husband, two kittens, and an oversized puppy.

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