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“There are none more afraid of dying…
Than those who live forever.”

Empire of the DamnedHoly fucking hell, Jay Kristoff has done it again! Thrilling, shocking, gut wrenching, intense, risqué, emotional, and darkly entertaining, Empire of the Damned is not the sequel I was expecting, but it turned out to be exactly the sequel I wanted and needed.

Like its predecessor, Empire of the Damned is told through an excitingly unique frame narrative, with the lovable grump Gabriel de Léon being interviewed by the dangerously alluring vampire Jean-François. Except this time, there’s an additional character adding their perspective to the chronicler’s tale, and I didn’t know how much I wanted that until I got it and totally sucked it up. Yes, this is the continuation of the tale of the last Silversaint, but it is also so much more than that.

With how much I adored Empire of the Vampire, I was truly quite nervous to see how Kristoff would ever be able to recapture the magic of that first instalment, but I honestly should never have doubted his exceptional storytelling skills. I think bringing in the new perspective was an excellent decision, because while Gabe is absolutely one of the most compelling protagonists I have ever had the pleasure of reading about, he is also quite the drama queen and simply cannot be fully trusted in the biased narration of his own tale.

Through this new perspective, which almost serves as a two-in-one POV (iykyk), the scope of the world and story very organically expands, and every single aspect of this story only becomes more nuanced and complex. We get such a riveting deep dive into the twisted history, mystifying lore, and all the different factions and species that roam this dark realm, which fascinated and frightened me in equal measure. Blood Voss remains a great looming threat in this narrative, but it’s Blood Dyvok who become the true baddies in this sequel, and I was madly gobbling up all the cruelty and brutality of their cutthroat inner politics. 

Though, the only reason why this level of darkness works and why the stakes of this story feel so intense, is because the emotional investment is so incredibly high. Kristoff has masterfully established a dynamic cast of intriguing characters that you can love, hate, love to hate, or hate to love, and he will make damn sure that you feel both their tentative joy and their deepest sorrow right along with them. Not only was I worried sick about the protagonists of this tale, but the fates of some of the most loveable side characters also gave me intense heartache, and I absolutely loved the emotional turmoil. 

I especially liked how Dior really came into her own and got her time to shine in Empire of the Damned, and I didn’t know I could love her more until I witnessed her arc in this sequel. Yes, she is brash and impulsive and acts on her emotions sometimes, but her resilience and defiance is also damn awe-inspiring, and I really like how her hope and youthful optimism so beautifully balanced out Gabe’s jaded grumpiness. Despite being separated for large parts of this narrative, their unconventional father/daughter dynamic only strengthened and deepened, which is exactly what gives this story so much heart.

Heartfelt themes of grief, faith, sacrifice, fate, loss, (queer) love, and (found) family are also just explored in the most beautifully bittersweet way, and I loved that the emotional trauma is truly cranked up to eleven. In the hands of a lesser author, this story could easily have become extremely draining or exhausting to read, but Kristoff has absolutely nailed the execution of this dark emotional rollercoaster.

No, he isn’t afraid to go awfully dark, but he also knows damn well how to crack you up with all the snarky sarcasm, sassy remarks, dark humour, sharp dialogue, and cutting banter. Especially all the little dramatic interventions from Jean-François calling Gabe out on his bullshit were just hysterically funny to me, and their dangerously intense (and undeniably seductive) dynamic honestly gives me life; please don’t let this series end before they have had a steamy scene together, I need it more than I need air to breathe!! 

Now, I’ll admit that there is objectively not a ton of progression in the overarching plot of this series here, yet somehow I didn’t feel the middle book syndrome at all. To me, this entire story was just brimming with tension, be that from the pulse-pounding action scenes, intense inner turmoil, heavy interpersonal drama, simmering sexual tension, or the powerful moments of character- and relationship building that are loaded with emotional weight. Plus, Kristoff’s strong and immersive prose is more addictive than the blood that these vampires are sucking, which makes Empire of the Damned just an inexplicably mesmerising and captivating story from start to finish.

And if you have the chance to listen along to the audiobook (emphasis on listen *along*, because you don’t want to miss out on the gorgeous illustrations inside), please do yourself a favour and do so. Not only because these narrators absolutely nail their performances, but also because it features an author Q&A between Kristoff and Joseph Morgan (a.k.a. Klaus Mikaelson, the best morally gray vampire to have ever existed) that honestly made my goth teen heart squeal with joy. The fact that this interview between these two legends didn’t become my favourite part of this reading experience is honestly the highest testament I can give to the utter excellence that is Empire of the Damned.

So, whether you think you like vampires or not, please do yourself a favour and just sink your teeth into this absolutely glorious masterpiece of a dark fantasy tale. Empire of the Damned is straight-up fire from start to finish, and I truly cannot wait to see what kind of cruel fuckery Kristoff has in store in the finale of this series; I am ready for emotional destruction!

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Empire of the Damned

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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