I’ve been looking forward to Empire of the Vampire since the day it was announced. I pre-ordered it as soon as the link to do so went live. So to say that my expectations for this book were high would be a drastic understatement. Which makes it all the more impressive that I found those expectations not only met and surpassed, but completely blown away. I loved everything about this book, and after having loved the Nevernight trilogy fervently, Kristoff’s adult fantasy is something that I will immediately and always purchase.
“We are hope for the hopeless. The fire in the night. We will walk the dark as they do, and they shall know our names and despair. For so long as they burn, we shall be flame. So long as they bleed, we shall be blades. So long as they sin, we shall be saints.”
Kristoff is an absurdly, nigh on disgustingly talented writer. His prose is this seemingly effortless mix of heart-achingly beautiful and snarky in the same breath. Every word feels like the easiest, most natural choice in the world while also feeling as if it was only chosen after incredibly careful consideration. Honestly, his prose is breathtaking in its balance. The ease of it makes me sick, and I can’t stop reading it. The only other authors I can think of with even a remotely similar style are Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch, and yet there’s still an effortlessness to Kristoff’s work that sets it apart. Obviously I know that this caliber of craftsmanship is far from effortless, but that’s how it comes across.
“But it’s a fool who looks with more fondness to the days behind than the ones ahead. And it’s a man drenched in defeat who sings that sad refrain; that things were better then.”
Speaking of Rothfuss, one of my favorite niche tropes ever is when the protagonist has built this insane, larger-than-life reputation while still young but like any excessively bright star has burned out fast, and are now being somehow coerced into telling someone else their life story so that “the truth” of their life can be preserved for posterity. Which I know is incredibly specific, but it happens more often than one would think. My favorite example of this trope has always been The Name of the Wind, but I honestly think that Empire of the Vampire did it even better. The framework story was compelling in its own right, and I’m desperate to know how Gabe ended up there. Beyond the framework, we are given a look into Gabriel de León’s life story through his own words, with the timeline slipping back and forth between his early years and his most recent adventure. I was equally engaged in all three facets of the plot, which isn’t always the case in books portraying the same character in different stages of life.
“Put a man in a room for a hundred years with a thousand books, and he’ll know a million truths. Put him in a room for a year with silence, and he’ll know himself.”
This is one of those rare adult novels where the illustrations are actually part of the plot, and they served to enhance an already incredible story. The artwork is absolutely stunning. And the religious imagery of the writing was aided by the art style, as well. Bon Orthwick, the artist responsible for all of these amazing illustrations, is insanely talented. The combination of his art and Kristoff’s prose is utter perfection. There’s this sensuality to both that worked incredibly well with the story itself.
“You’re past is stone, but your future clay. And you decide the shape of the life you’ll make.”
I deeply appreciate the way Kristoff handles hard topics in this book, like addiction and zealotry, faith and doubt and love and lust and what makes us truly human. The way in which he approached religion was fascinating and gave me a lot of food for thought. The belief system in this book very closely mirrors Catholicism, and while we knew from the very beginning that the faith was corrupted in some way, it was still presented with a nice balance of respect and skepticism.
“If we spend all our lives in darkness, is it any wonder when darkness starts to live in us?”
If you’ve read Kristoff’s Nevernight trilogy, it will come as no surprise to you that Empire of the Vampire is incredibly dark. There’s a lot of pain and gore and death here. Like, a ton. There’s also copious amounts of religious and relationship inner turmoil. But the humor Kristoff imbues in his writing served to keep the story from ever feeling too heavy, even when things were at their bleakest. Kristoff has a keen sense of when a dark scene is becoming too much, and somehow always manages to find a way to give you just enough relief from that oppressive darkness to keep going. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the bleakness of the story got to me at times. It was just handled in a way that kept me coming back to read more.
“There’s no misery so deep as one you face by yourself. No nights darker than ones you spend alone. But you can learn to live with any weight. Your scars grow thick enough, they become armour.”
There’s so much more I could say about Empire of the Vampire, but I’ll settle for saying that it’s a dark, sensual, snarky, philosophical, profane, profoundly romantic and impeccably written introduction to a series that I feel certain is going to become a lifetime favorite for many readers. Myself included. This is a novel that I’ll be rereading and pressing into the hands of anyone I think could handle the darkness and the worldview. I seriously cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel.
You can purchase this book from: Blackwell’s | Bookshop.org (Support Independent Bookstores) | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | Libro.fm (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide!)