The Greyfriar - Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!

Vampires and steampunk! The former, obviously, is a topic that's been wildly popular for years and years. The latter, as well, has been a subgenre gaining more traction in the science fiction and fantasy world lately, hence the fact that I would finally stumble across a book which unites both concepts in the foundation for its story was only a matter of time! What did strike me as a pleasant surprise, however, was finding a book that does this so well.

The Greyfriar is set in an alternate history in which humans and vampires have been locked in a bitter war for more than a century. In 1870, the blood drinkers rose up to conquer the northern lands, driving the humans towards warmer climes. Now, the young princess Adele of Equatoria is to wed the famed vampire hunter senator of the American Republic, their marriage to be the start of an alliance to take back their lands. But a month before the wedding, an ambush on the princess' airship throws all plans into turmoil. Adele's way home now involves a partnership with the Greyfriar, a semi-legendary figure who has become a symbol of humanity's fight against the vampires.

Notice I say "partnership with" and not "dependency upon", because as princesses go, Adele is far from your dainty damsel in distress and can most certainly hold her own. In this book, both the main protagonist and also the enemy vampire warchief are female characters one would not be wise to cross, as each woman has a commanding presence about them in their own way. With Adele, I loved her for her independence, intelligence, fighting skills, as well as for her protectiveness and love for her little brother. All the characters here are pretty well written, but it's extra nice having a heroine I genuinely like and enjoy reading about.

Still, while I'm steadfastly rooting for Adele, it's hard not to be drawn to the vampires as well, with their fascinating empire, politics, family conspiracies and infighting among their peerage. The vampires in this book are atypical enough not to bore me, with their strange biological quirks allowing their bodies to be lighter and to "float" in the air, and it amuses me to no end how disdainful they are of human myths like the ones claiming vampires to be their own dead risen to life. Their culture is well defined, like everything else in this book's world.

My favorite part, though, is the thread of romance woven through the second half of the book! Admittedly, as much as I enjoy love stories, romance in these types of books usually make me balk -- like, seriously, why spoil a perfectly awesome action adventure tale by forcing a contrived and cringe-worthy romantic side plot just for the sake of having it? And yet, the thing is, the love story in this book could not have been more natural and just...totally appropriate, like it belongs. I don't know what it is, but perhaps the fact that the authors are a married couple who have been writing and publishing together for years has something to do with it, because the attraction between Adele and Greyfriar felt passionate, gradual, sweet, real and -- most importantly -- earned. None of that insta-love nonsense.

Plus, no worries if romance isn't your thing; as I've said, it's not the dominant focus and does not overtake the entire story, and I liked how there were just as many if not more action-oriented battles and fight scenes in this book. In fact, my only wish is that the novel was better paced and balanced. After a very bombastic introduction, it wasn't until halfway through the book that my enthusiasm spiked again, but once it did, you can be sure I was completely enamored. I read the second half all in one sitting, and loved every minute of it.