Until this month, I’d been waiting to read EotV for forever. Okay…in truth, it was more like a few months short of 3 years, but this led to some pretty high expectations – something I generally try to avoid for fear of heartbreak. Yet, to my complete surprise, this book managed to meet them, mostly.
Who, What, Where?
EotV is set in the world of Elidaen – an empire conquered by vampires after its sun disappeared one day twenty-seven years ago. In a prison cell, awaiting his death for murdering the vampire emperor, Silversaint Gabriel de Leon, the last of a holy order dedicated to defending humans against monsters of the night, is compelled to tell his life’s story to a vampire historian. Gabriel details his youth at the monastery of San Michon, rise to fame as a Chevalier of the realm against invading vampire forces, forbidden love, and journey with a small band of allies to find the Holy Grail, prophesised to bring an end to the eternal night.
It’s a Vampire’s World
First off, the world building in this book is fantastic! It’s complex, intriguing, intricate, and somehow JK breaks it down for the reader in ways that are easy to understand without bogging down the story. I was engaged in the world right from the very beginning and really enjoyed learning about its vampire lore and bloodlines, the Silver Order, Elidaen’s religion, and how the loss of the sun and vampire invasion affected people’s lives (a diet involving lots of potatoes, apparently). There were a couple of things raised and not fully explained but there’s got to be material left for the sequels, right? The one thing that bothered me a little was the use of random French words like ‘oui’ or ‘ma famillie’. It’s weird because the spoken language isn’t really discussed so it looks like they’re there purely to try and French-ify things.
I think it’s safe to say that if you loved JK’s Nevernight books it’s likely you’ll enjoy EotV. While there aren’t any footnotes (thank God), it’s similarly full of violence, revenge, corruption, foul language, moody-vibes, smut, religious themes, and emotional moments. It’s DARRRKKK. Vampires bathing in the blood of babies dark. The kind of dark and scary vampires should be. However, part of my reasoning for dropping that .5 of a star is that some of these things were slightly overdone in places. In the case of gore and violence, over time I felt myself becoming desensitised to the horror described, having read so much of it. Dead children littering the ground? Well, alrighty then! Likewise with the swearing and crassness, in that some lines came off feeling forced and excessive – we get it, they’re badasses with dirty mouths. And for the love of all that’s holy, please, no more ‘your mother/wife’ jokes. The audience is not a bunch of twelve-year-old boys.
Full Steam Ahead
There was no point while reading this book where I felt bored, and for a 700+ page novel, that’s pretty darn impressive. The plot of EotV is like if The Name of the Wind, The Witcher and The Last of Us had a threesome in a vampire nest with a twist from The Da Vinci Code thrown in. I have no idea if that sounds appealing, but it was. Gabriel’s tale switches back and forth between two different parts of his life. The first details his teenage years, during which he studied with the Silver Order and built his legend as The Black Lion. The second looks at more recent events – Gabe’s journey with a small group protecting a teenage street urchin named Dior in connection with the Holy Grail. At first, I was bothered by this structure but after seeing that it didn’t negatively impact the momentum, I realised it was a clever narrative choice. This is because it: a) stopped the book from being stuck in one place for too long, and b) allowed JK to slowly unfold certain plot elements to dramatic (and heartbreaking) effect. My only minor complaint is there were a couple of character-oriented moments in the first timeline which were summarised rather than shown to allow the book to move on to other events that I wish we’d actually seen.
A Grumpy “Hero”, Talking Sword and Scrappy Pickpocket
Talking about EotV’s characters without spoilers is a minefield, but I can safely say I liked a lot of them. Our lead, Gabriel, has been through a great deal and is akin to a more broken, bitter and arrogant Geralt of Rivia. He’s lost his faith and self-respect, and generally adopts a ‘F*** off’ attitude. While Gabe frustrated me early on, I came to understand and appreciate his interesting mix of heroic and asshole-ish qualities. His relationship with Dior was one of my favourite parts of the book and I loved seeing them come to trust and care for one another despite negative original perceptions. The surrounding cast of characters were also good but time with them was limited in some cases. A few standouts for me were Aaron, Gabe’s Silversaint nemesis turned friend; Ashdrinker, Gabe’s crazy, talking sword; Bellamy, basically Dandelion from The Witcher but more battle adept; and of course, Dior, our locking picking, smart-mouthed dynamo.
It would be a crime not to mention the stunning illustrations by Bon Orthwick in this book. As someone who doesn’t see books play out like movies in their head, these artworks truly enhanced my reading experience and helped me to feel and visualise scenes. HOWEVER, that one piece – you’ll know when the time comes – how DARE you squash my heart like that?
As I’m sure you already know, I had a blast reading this crazy, bloody, vampire ride of a paperweight and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series, whenever it finally makes an appearance.
Note: Thank you to Harper Collins AU and Netgalley for a large sampler of this book which allowed me to get started early!