Fiction Review: The Rift Walker (Vampire Empire, Book Two)

BY CLAY AND SUSAN GRIFFITH
Publisher: Pyr
Review by Anna Burwell

[For the review of Book One of the Vampire Empire series, go here]

Rift WalkerAfter her excitement in vampire-controlled Britain, Adele faces equally daunting challenges on the home front. While she is next in line for the throne, there are those in the Empire who would see her removed from the line of succession at all costs. Even, perhaps, through allying themselves with the vampire menace. While a coup builds in the background, Adele travels deeper into Africa, guided by her teacher, Mamoru (who, along with his cabal, seem to have a number of ulterior motives). During the power shifts in Alexandria, Adele and the Greyfriar find themselves fighting vampires on the southern front while Adele learns to harness her powers as a rift-walker, learning to channel the very energies of the earth. Unfortunately, her power comes with a price—and it could very well kill the man she loves. This proves an unnecessary distraction when someone is trying to steal one’s throne via assassination, and all of humanity lives in the shadow of a gathering vampire menace.

Unfortunately, The Rift Walker retains much of The Greyfriar’s predictability. While the occasional surprise might suddenly pop out of the closet to make itself known, it is still a slave to formula. The only small consolation is that the clumsy foreshadowing doesn’t ruin all of the main conflicts as it did in the first book. Hubris and its very obvious (and very inevitable) after-effects are everywhere, however, and it’s still painfully easy to see things as they really are—before the authors have even brought said person or plot thread into play. Much to the chagrin of those who detest a poorly-constructed love story, The Rift Walker has more focus on romance (as it’s since been established as part of the story). It seemed to me that some of these scenes mimic the genre’s forebears in dime novels, and sometimes smack of the tableaus a reader is subjected to in mainstream urban fantasy. Fortunately, the same good qualities of The Greyfriar continue on to salvage the second installation’s plot.

Remaining one of the saving graces of the series, Adele isn’t the shrinking violet—not completely anyway. Her continued and active presence during the nearly-constant swashbuckling (and said swashbuckling really is the vast bulk of the storyline) may draw the occasional smile from the reader’s lips, even if some of the scenes are mightily overplayed. Even more startling, though, is that The Rift Walker is a book where the heroine is loved because she is powerful rather than overly sentimental or just a pretty bauble. After all, it isn’t every day that a female protagonist is portrayed as appealing because she has the destructive potential of a tornado. Unfortunately, this is nearly cancelled out by a lack of depth on the part of the other characters. They all seem to share the exact same sense of bravado and tendency to rush in without thinking (at all), which makes some of the (painfully inevitable) conflicts more than a little tiresome. It’s almost as if the author duo didn’t know the difference between a character flaw and outright stupidity.

With that aside, the characters and the action scenes still drive the narrative, and the reader is propelled from one end of the volume to the other without being too bogged-down with purple prose and forced romance. The alternate-Africa setting is a breath of fresh air, even if the rather unrealistic cultural issues niggle at the back of the reader’s mind. Continuing from their first installment, the Griffiths make sure the alternate-history timeline doesn’t force the reader to concentrate on the background rather than the characters. As such, it remains a recommendation for those who enjoy the incredibly pulpy side of steampunk. And, if anything, the series continues to be a sort of fluffy read for amusing oneself during free time. It remains squarely in the ‘mediocre’ range.

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