False Covenant: Pyr hardcover, July 2012, 280 pages, cover art by Jason Chan. False Covenant is the second book in the Widdershins YA series. The first book, Thief's Covenant, competed in the Winter 2012 Battle of the Books, defeating Mark Hodder before falling to Stina Leicht. Marmell has written three other original fantasy novels as well as various tie-in works.
Widdershins, the heroine of False Covenant, is a skillful young thief in the medieval city of Davillon, with the minor god Olgun her constant companion. The book opens with Widdershins, in her alter ego as the young lady Madeleine Valois, attending a high society party hosted by Clarence Rittier, the Marquis de Ducarte. Widdershins is casing the place for a late-night robbery. But when she returns that night, she finds another band of thieves with the same plan, and the City Guard lying in wait. The opening pages also give us a glimpse of a high-ranking clergyman, Bishop Sicard, engaged in some surreptitious dealings.
Vampire Empire: The Kingmakers: Pyr trade paperback, September 2012, 391 pages, cover art by Chris McGrath. The Kingmakers is the third volume in the Vampire Empire series, which places vampires in a steampunk/alternate history universe with elements of romance. The Griffiths are a husband-and-wife writing team, who started out doing tie-in work, before launching the Vampire Empire series.
The Kingmakers opens with trench warfare pitting the Equatorians, fiercely loyal to Empress Adele, against a vast horde of vicious vampires. In this universe vampires are powerful and have the ability to fly, but they can be killed by ordinary means, without need for a stake to the heart. Sirdar General Anhalt leads an Equatorian army, aided by the famous warrior Greyfriar (himself a vampire), bogged down outside Grenoble, France. The Empress herself comes to their aid, using her power of geomancy to fend off the attacking vampires. The Empress and Greyfriar are in love, but he cannot approach her while she uses geomancy. The Empress is determined to use her power to take the fight to her vampire adversaries.
The Battle: These are both sequels, so a key to this Battle will be which author(s) can settle me quickly into their novels' universe. False Covenant has an advantage going in, that I read 50 pages of the previous volume, which I found most interesting——it took a spirited effort by Stina Leicht to knock Thief's Covenant off.
False Covenant also has an effective opening, quickly reintroducing us to Marmell's charming young protagonist Widdershins, with some amusing banter between Widdershins and her companion deity Olgun. Marmell gives us a good action scene early on, while unobtrusively summarizing his setting of Davillon and its complex web of competing religions. Marmell tells the story with a fun narrative voice. I especially liked that in the opening scene, party guests are scandalized by the incompetent servants working for the Marquis, which later proves a clever hint that the servants were really disguised Guardsmen laying a trap for Widdershins and her fellow thieves.
The Kingmakers has a good premise: steampunk with lots of vampires. We only get a glimpse of the Empress in the opening passage, but it is already obvious she is an admirably strong-willed female character. But the initial 25 pages do not give me a very good sense of what vampires actually add to the authors' steampunk setting. There is a horrific battle scene in the early pages, but is it any more horrific than real trench warfare? Placing a vampire battle in World War I trenches doesn't make much sense to me——what is the trench for when the vampires can fly and they don't shoot at you?——and has the unfortunate effect of making the fight seem familiar instead of strange.
THE WINNER: False Covenant by Ari Marmell
False Covenant advances to the second round, to take on either The Snow by Ross S. Simon or Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston.
To see the whole bracket, click here.