Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Publisher: HarperVoyager

Publish Date: 07 September 2021

Page Count: 736 pages (hardcover)

“I am the light in the night. I am hope for the hopeless. I am the fire that rages between this and all world’s ending. I shall know no famille, save these my brothers. I shall love no woman, save our Mother and Maid, I shall seek no respite, save in paradise at the right hand of my Heavenly Father.”

Despite owning more books by Jay Kristoff than almost any other author, this is the first of his novels that I’ve actually read (and I couldn’t help but laugh when the main character in EotV muses, “It’s a strange truth, but some folk enjoy the notion of owning books more than reading them,” somewhat ironically, given that Kristoff has more collectable special editions than any other author).

Due to this Kristoff hype over the last few years, I went into Empire of the Vampire quite critically, anticipating disappointment. But I have to say this is a damn well-executed book, and I smashed through it in a week or so. The characters, the story, the language and the tone are watertight. 

Although it has been mistaken for YA (I blame rhyming ’empire’ with ‘vampire’ – I still can’t get past that title), EoTV is not for the faint of heart. Aside from the mature themes and creatively gory violence, the protagonist de León and his pals are hella ribald. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few examples of de León’s inventive language that, I’m ashamed to say, I found very amusing:

“I’d have boxed my own grandmama in the baps for a hot bath.”

“God spunks in my spuds once again.”

“Oh, you saints-buggering, cack-gargling TWATGOBLIN!”

And that’s him in a reasonably good mood.  

Empire of the Vampire is the verbal account of Gabriel de León – Silversaint, half-blood and killer of the Forever King. In the first chapter, he has been captured and is asked to recount his life to a vampire historian. De León reluctantly obliges, describing how he came to join the holy Silver Order, his rise to glory and subsequent fall from grace. 

De León doesn’t always tell his tale chronologically, deliberately toying with his captor and getting more than a little tiddly. This interview format, perhaps a nod to Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, allows Kristoff to construct the plot perfectly, maintaining tension and anticipation of answers until late in the game. What might have seemed gimmicky in less capable hands instead becomes the spine of the story. I even quite looked forward to the breaks in de León’s monologue where he exchanges insults with Jean-François and gets called out for lousy storytelling. 

“If we spend all our lives in darkness, is it any wonder when darkness starts to live in us?”

The world of EotV is a grim one. Daylight has become as scarce as hope as vampires slowly take over the continent, leaving death, destruction, and the zombie-like wretched in their wake. This bleak setting and religious imagery reminded me a lot of Tristram from the Diablo games. The language, too, though I could have done without the “thee’s” and “thou’s” used by the elder vamps; it felt artificial at times, particularly in contrast to the modern language, which uses many French words. I did like Kristoff’s penchant for smooshing words together (knifebright, daysdeath, silversteel… twatgoblin). It becomes noticeable after a while, but I found it quite effective in worldbuilding and setting the tone.

The setting also borrows heavily from catholicism, though none too kindly, as de León struggles with his loss of faith and anger at an indifferent God. 

“I asked myself if goodness could come of sin, and if so, what sin was at all. I asked myself if God loved us, how it was he could hate that we found love ourselves. How he could allow such suffering to go unanswered. How he could have deemed it wise to create a world that cradled horrors such as these.”

De León is more agnostic than atheist, but reading EoTV, it’s clear that Kristoff has a few bones to pick with organised religion. 

The specifics of the plot are best discovered as you journey through the book with de León, which leads to a fantastic ending that will leave readers begging for the next book in the series. My money is on it being named Taint of the Saint. Or perhaps Flood of the Blood. Pucker of the Sucker? Anyway, I bet it will be great!

And in sight of God and his Seven Martyrs, I do here vow: let the dark know my name and despair. So long as it burns, I am the flame. So long as it bleeds, I am the blade. So long as it sins, I am the saint. 

And I am silver.”

Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! 

Trigger warnings: drug use/addiction, death of family, sexual assault, child abuse, references to paedophilia, references to rape, suicidal ideology, cutting/self-harm, homophobia

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