REVIEW: Prince of the City by Keith Herber

Prince of the City by Keith Herber is both a prequel as well as sequel to the book Dark Prince by the same author. It is one of the early Vampire: The Masquerade novels that is set in the World of Darkness where supernatural entities live among us, hiding their existence so they can prey upon us better. Dark Prince was a fantastic novel with a hard gritty street-crime edge and a loathsome protagonist that, nevertheless, manages to undergo serious character development. It introduced the character of Vannevar Thomas, and I was interested in seeing where this book would take him as Prince of the City stars said supporting character.

Prince of the CityPrince of the City is a very different book from Dark Prince despite so many crossover characters and including Vannevar’s perception of the events in the latter. It’s a credit to Keith Herber that he’s so dramatically able to shift his style. If I had to compare it to any other book, I’d say it’s most similar to Interview with a Vampire as it’s essentially a centuries-long biography of Vannevar from his days as a Revolutionary War soldier embraced by his deranged uncle to his rise to power as one of the early residents of San Fransisco.

One of the first things to note is that Vannevar Thomas is a far more likeable protagonist than Sullivan. He’s a vampire and feeds off the living but all indications are he’s about as nice a person as you can probably be and still survive in Kindred politics. He’s a progressive minded fellow that rescues a black man from being lynched (making him his ghoul), supports California joining the Union during the Civil War, and shows unexpected mercy that occasionally pays off. This makes him far easier to root for but does take away some of the book’s edge. Really, the worst thing that Vannevar does is turn a blind eye to all of his much-much nastier fellows’ doings.

Keith Herbert obviously did a lot of history of San Fransisco and the book is a decent travelogue of the city through its various changes across multiple centuries. We follow the city from its days as part of the Wild West and Gold Rush to its transformation into an organized city as well as its ultimate fate as a counter-culture mecca. Vannevar trying to figure out what the hell hippies are saying when tracking down his LSD-blood drinking child, Margaret, is one of the rare humorous parts of the story.

Keith Herber really “gets” the early Vampire: The Masquerade handling of Kindred as Prince of the City is filled with dozens of unique vampires interacting off one another. The politics in the city frequently change and we often get characters who are fully realized, only for them to die or be replaced within a few chapters. A deranged sea captain Malkavian that rules the docks and frustrates Vannevar? Dies in the great earthquake.

A union leader Brujah that has ties to the Inner Circle of the Camarilla? Executed along with a previous prince. Vannevar’s archenemy for a century? Shuffled off after an opportunity to kill him pays off. There’s no cannon fodder and the colorful personalities illustrate both how long Vannevar has been at this and the kind of unique weirdos vampirism creates. Undead politics are a dangerous business, and we watch Vannevar manage to weather them better than most across his long-long unlife.

If I have any complaints about Prince of the City, it does go for “fridging” as a means of giving Vannevar emotional pain. One of Vannevar’s love interests across the centuries suffers a horrific assault that leaves her insane, another dies horribly during a riot in Chinatown, and a third, well, almost rather comically dies when they run out into the sun while high as a kite. Remember kids, drugs are bad. Still, this is a really solid book and probably the second best of the Vampire: The Masquerade line.

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.