REVIEW: Empire of the Damned by Jay Kristoff

Empire of the Damned continues the bloody and unforgiving tale of the silversaint Gabriel de Leon. Gabriel remains the prisoner of the vampire Margot, the Empress of Wolves and Men, and she wishes for the infamous legend’s story to be told to future vampire generations. The historian Jean-François is again the chronicler of these events, even though he and Gabriel did not conclude Empire of the Vampire on the most civil terms. Reluctantly, with many inventive swears and sarcastic wit, Gabriel relays the next stages of his heroic and tragic life. The action picks up with Gabriel, Dior Lachance, and a ‘deathless bloodmage’ contemplating what to do next regarding the vampire assaults and domination of Elidaen, and how they can go about ending the eternal night of daysdeath.

Gabriel dislikes vampires. Throughout this part of his recounting, he has a vendetta to settle with the most powerful vampire in the empire, Fabien Voss. Although Blood Voss are a constant presence and threat to the Silversaint and those he holds dear, Blood Dyvok are the main adversaries in Empire of the Damned. This house contains brutal, seductive, intelligent vampires, intriguing politics and histories, and are mysteriously much more powerful than they have any right to be. They have recently taken hold of the formidable Dun Maergenn and about forty percent of the novel happens within this city’s walls.

Empire of the Damned features an almost perfect mix of familiar characters and new exciting players in Kristoff’s well-realised fantasy world. A former Silversaint apprentice of Gabriel’s and members of Dun Maergenn’s court, both vampire and civilian, make great additions. As mentioned, we are presented insight into yet unfamiliar vampire houses, plus revelations regarding skinchangers, and the holy vampiric faction of the Esani. It makes for gripping and detailed worldbuilding as readers learn further details while Gabriel reflects on his escapades.

While recounting his story, one day to be read to the vampire children of this world, the banter and exchanges between Gabriel and the historian are once again top-notch. The back and forth is a battle-of-wits, a multilayered and energetic verbal joust. As per the previous book, Gabriel drinks a fair amount of wine as he dictates but, in his current predicament, the joys in his life are currently limited.

Alongside the present day happenings of Gabriel and Jean-François, Empire of the Vampire presented two distinct storylines at varying stages of the silversaint’s illustrious vampire-destroying career. Empire of the Damned focuses on one flashback period, making up most of the narrative and this was welcome to me, getting my teeth into this drama wholeheartedly. I understand the need for many authors to have the formative years sections, especially in the first novels of a series and this was worked proficiently in the previous entry. Kristoff does alter his presentation with how the narrative is delivered at certain points. This was initially unexpected and extremely fulfilling so I will not go into the details. I enjoyed the change in dynamic so much, that I would not want to take that moment of realisation away from other readers.

Empire of the Damned delivers many moments of high-intensity, including memorable showdowns, exchanges, and unpredictability, with very little going the way expected or in Gabriel’s favour. Certain scenes may arguably be over the top yet Empire of the Damned is an undeniably addictive and fun read. Yes, with some characters’ incredible powers of recovery, sometimes it seems as if fights do not have concrete consequences (Gabriel has many broken ribs!). Moreover, when reading it is not always obvious when someone’s death means a character is actually dead. These minor points do not take away from the stunning spectacle that is Empire of the Damned. It is a dark fantasy read/experience of the highest quality, with an amazing and tragic finale that is worthy of these well-conceived 700 pages. Fellow Grimdark Magazine reviewer Fiona advised me that she was a ‘whirlpool of feelings’ when she finished this novel, and I concur, believing that is an excellent way to express post-Empire of the Damned emotions. The next entry in this series cannot come soon enough.

I received advanced review copies in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Harper Voyager and St Martin’s Press.

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James Tivendale

James Tivendale

Reviewer. Sober. Runner. Peer Mentor. Pool Player. Poker Player. Fitness. Metal. Rap. Mario Kart. Zelda.