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REVIEW: The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

REVIEW SUMMARY: Sucked of life, this steampunk, vampire mash-up misses the mark.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vampires have taken over the world, ruling with a clawed fist. Humanity’s hope lies with a marriage of two nations, a “mysterious” freedom fighter, and a princess that is more than she appears.

PROS: Fun premise; use of technology of the era.
CONS: No mystery or flow; prose is rudimentary and doesn’t excite.
BOTTOM LINE: A debut novel that reads like one, this is for hardcore steampunk and vampire fans only.

The Greyfriar is an alternate reality steampunk, vampire extravaganza where the famously fanged monsters have always existed. In the 19th century they massacred the major nations of the world, establishing an empire where humans were enslaved like animals to do their bidding. The civilized remnants of humanity fled to the lands of the equator where the inhospitable climate kept the vampires at bay. The humans rebuilt: developing impressive dirigibles and firepower as they trained armies and prepared for the day they would take back the land of their forefathers.

That’s a great premise with the promise of convoluted politics, gritty, epic battles and supernatural beings pitted against the ingenuity of man. Unfortunately, the execution suffered when the heroine, Adele, falls in love with a man of mystery who loses his mystique almost instantly. Adele quickly turns from a prim and proper lady to a sword master, which begins an incessant allusion to her having great power and being the savior of mankind; the proverbial Chosen One. While I love heroes tasked with saving the world, I don’t need to be reminded every couple pages. And that is the book’s prominent failing: it over-explains. Not everything, but more than enough.

One of the best parts of the book was Senator Clark, a bigger-than-life character that takes no flack from anyone and who will not accept defeat despite the odds. He remains true to himself (arrogant), even if no one else does. I’m in favor of character arcs about change, but the changes in this story were more about trying to cram the characters through a set of specific obstacles in a certain way, rather than working with the characters they naturally developed. There was a level of revision that was missed, I think, that should have either changed the adventure or characters themselves. And the prose, which seems more fitted towards the authors’ comic book backgrounds, never quite flows.

As an aspiring, professional writer I am very familiar with the Golden Rule of “Show, don’t Tell.” For everyone else this is simply the act of writing a scene so the reader understands the action, emotion, and so on without explicitly being told what they should think or envision. A good example would be to scare the reader (Show) instead of telling them that something was scary (Tell). I wanted to feel the emotion raging in some scenes, hunch my shoulders with the tension of gripping action, but The Greyfriar was merely dull. Not a surprise, perhaps, since the omniscient narrator felt it necessary to kill any sense of surprise or mystery. Every little detail is revealed to the reader well in advance of the need to know it. The Greyfriar just feels like a debut novel that will appeal more to hardcore steampunk and/or vampire fans.

6 Comments on REVIEW: The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

  1. Thanks, Clifton.

    This is one of the relatively few negative reviews I’ve seen for the book and this is yet another book I’ve considered picking up.

     Perhaps your aspiring writer status gives you a different perspective on the book than non-writer reviewers.  Do you think that’s something that you find time and again when you are reading books?

  2. Nick Sharps // April 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm //

    This is probably the first bad review I’ve read for The Greyfriar, I haven’t picked it up because I’m not all that interested but it’s nice to see another perspective. 

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. I don’t know if I’d say that being a writer has made me look at books in a different light regarding enjoyment. I just spend more brainpower trying to figure out what makes them tick.

    I’ve always been picky about the books I read, though I wouldn’t say I’ve read an extraordinarily large amount of books. I know a lot of others that read far more. I can’t even claim that my writing is superior and will appeal on a mass-market kind of level. Who knows, maybe what I like versus the general populace of sci-fi/fantasy fans will fall flat on its face? Or maybe not. Only time will tell. And I’m crossing my fingers.

    I am curious what some people think of the approach of abandoning mystery. I found it very odd how little interest the narrator had in retaining surprise or mystique.

  4. Mystery  and suspense doesn’t always work, and isn’t always even desirable.

    Let me give an example from role playing games. There is an RPG system that has been created by the good people at Pelgrane Press that takes away the “look for the little clue” aspect of investigative games.  If a character has the points to pay and a skill that is appropriate, they can get an answer, rather than having the players stumble around. The focus of the game thus changes.

    (And a reminder that I need to start that column for John)

    I think, though, that a lack of mystery and suspense is preferable to having mystery and suspense done *badly*. 

  5. Hi Clifton,  I think we might have talked about this book on Twitter?  I didn’t care for it either, and for the same reasons it didn’t work for you, along with a few others.  I chalked up my dislike for the book to me not being it’s intended audience.  I believe the intended audience for this book is people who really enjoy YA-ish vampire romance.  and that isn’t me. 

  6. @Paul Granted, it depends on the story and style at hand. In this case I strongly feel that it would have been an improvement. I certainly don’t think they should have gone mum, and winked and nudged their nose at everything, but much of what transpired was already obvious and didn’t need to be restated by the narrator. So perhaps I should clarify that things are overstated. I noticed in my early drafts of some WIP of my own that I had a tendency to infodump and overexplain. Taking this stuff out (or condenscing) greatly improved the story and prose.

    @redhead Sure, for the die hard fans, I imagine it plays well, but I think there is better out there. It truly is a good mash of story elements, perhaps book two will build upon the first.

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