Thursday, 25 August 2011

‘Vampire Warlords’ – Andy Remic (Angry Robot)

Without going into too much detail about my life right now (I mean, you’re here for the books... right?) I’m absolutely shattered right now and very much looking forward to a long deserved holiday. It’s not here yet but it’s so close that I can almost taste it. As far as my reading goes, this tiredness has meant that I’ve either been looking at comfort reads or books that will wake me up with their sheer energy. A shot of genre Red Bull if you will :o)

Andy Remic’s ‘Clockwork Vampire Chronicles’ is by no means a comfort read (seriously, check out my reviews for ‘Kell’s Legend’ and ‘Soul Stealers’), and I’ve had my issues with the first two books, but the series thus far has never failed to wake me up and get me moving. I have to wonder where Remic gets all that energy from for his novels, I want some of it!
When I saw that monster of a cliff-hanger scene at the end of ‘Soul Stealers’, there was no doubt that I would be around to see how things ended in ‘Vampire Warlords’. Given what happens in those final few pages there’s no way that it could end well... could it? Well, we’re talking about Kell here so that in itself should give you some ideas about how it all ends; in a tide of blood and severed limbs...

The Vampire Warlords walk the earth once more, summoned to be slaves of the Vachine but far too powerful to ever obey the commands of a lesser species. There is a world out there to be conquered and remade in their own image; the three Vampire Warlords cannot wait to get started.
As city after city falls to the newly birthed vampire hordes it becomes all too clear that the only person who stands any chance of stopping the Warlords is the axe man Kell. Kell may well be beginning to doubt himself but there is still enough strength in his arms to take up his axe for one final push at an enemy he has been fighting for almost his entire life. It’s not just the vampires that Kell has to worry about though, another army is marching out of the north and an enemy thought long dead is finally beginning to stir once more. Could these late developments be too much even for Kell? One thing is for sure; while Kell is still standing the fight isn’t over yet...

‘Vampire Warlords’ brings the first arc of Kell’s adventures to a close with things left open enough for more books to come (in the interview at the back of the book, Remic confirms that he plans to write more about the adventures of Kell and Saark). It’s all done in fine style as well with a series of climactic events that leave you in no doubt where things stand not only for Kell but for the land as a whole. We’re talking about the kind of book where you finish the last few chapters at such a rush that you have to remember to take a breath. Well, I did anyway.

‘Vampire Warlords’ does suffer some of the problems that I saw in the previous two books. Reading the book, I got the impression that Remic was basically saying, ‘you should know what I’m about with this series by now and you’ve come this far, just go with the flow and keep reading’. I think this approach is fair enough to an extent, writers should be able to set their stall out and let the readers decide for themselves whether they carry on reading or not.

Having said that though, ‘Vampire Warlords’ ended up suffering for the same kind of reasons that the last two books did. What I read was a book that sought to define itself as ‘gritty’ by being a book with more swear words in it than any other. Seriously, I defy you to find a book that swears at its readers more. The thing is though, copious swearing doesn’t make a book ‘gritty’ in tone, it’s just a book with a lot of swear words in it... This is a real shame as Remic does a lot of work in other areas that makes the book a very gritty read indeed (more on that in a bit) but the overload of swear words gives the proceedings a comedic air where there really shouldn’t be one. There is also that sense of enemies being lined up just so Kell can kill them and move on, an approach that has made the pacing stumble in past reads.

Despite all that though, ‘Vampire Warlords’ is the best read of the bunch and for very good reason.

Despite having a cast of characters who will use ten swear words where only one is needed, ‘Vampire Warlords’ is a dark and very gritty read to the extent where I found myself sucked into that darkness just to see if there was any light at the end of it. Remic has spent the last two books raising the stakes for Kell and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse... it does. The Vampire Warlords are vicious individuals, even by Remic’s standards, and he doesn’t leave any stone unturned in showing us just what life is like in their cities under their rule. Squeamish readers might want to skip those pages...
A tough world just got a whole lot tougher and characters are faced with hard decisions that they cannot ignore. Remic lays it all on the line and the end result is a surprisingly touching novel lurking under all that cartoonish violence.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Kell himself, a character moving out of the shadow of Gemmell’s Druss and becoming an engaging character in his own right. Kell is not only faced with the fight at hand but also the terrible mistakes that he has made in the past and must find some way of dealing with this all at once. The way in which he manages (whilst taking on all comers) made me feel more than a little respect for an old warrior trying to do the right thing against all his instincts. I even enjoyed the banter between Kell and Saark in that it signalled a development in their relationship rather than just hurling insults for the sake of it. I’d like to see more books featuring Kell and Saark, just to see where they go next.

If that wasn’t enough, you’ve got Remic’s natural talent for throwing everything (including the kitchen sink) at ‘Vampire Warlords’, resulting in a book that hurtles along at a breakneck pace but never falls over once. You’ve got to admire a writer that can keep control of things like that.

The villains are even bigger than before but Kell isn’t ready to lie down just yet. The resulting clash makes ‘Vampire Warlords’ the best book in the trilogy and the best way for Kell and Saark to bow out, for now...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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