REVIEW: THE FEAR OF MONCROIX
HOW I RATED IT
5/5 This fast-paced, action packed, vampire fantasy isn't a perfect book, but it was a perfect fit for me as a reader and I am so happy I got to go on this thrilling adventure with Davion.
The first thing that might be good to know is that this is most definitely a plot-driven story. This is generally a huge positive for me, but it is worth noting since some fans of fantasy prefer longer, more character-driven experiences. The character work in this book is spot-on, but the main focus here is in telling a tightly woven narrative filled with action, conspiracy, and some flourishes of light mystery. We follow Davion, who is the last member of an order that the Vampire Court wiped out. He's managed to survived for a decade in their midst through special magic that lets him pose as one of them. While we initially see him consigned to this purgatory, everything changes when a mysterious young man shows up to seemingly continue the work of the fallen Waywards. The story is told in a very cinematic way with some people comparing it to a Vampire Anime or Netflix's CASTLEVANIA series (though I have to say that I enjoyed this a lot more than CASTLEVANIA). We follow a couple of main POV characters around, though there are members of the supporting cast that we also spend some time with during the course of the adventure. The gothic overtones felt fitting and contrasted nicely with the rather mysterious magic system that serves to make this feel like something a little more special than your average vampire-ridden marshland. Uncovering all these little details was a treat as Davion carefully maneuvers through court politics in an effort to free himself from his living nightmare and also exact revenge for his fallen comrades. One small complaint I have is that there is a time skip that happens between the Prologue and the First Chapter that felt abrupt. The time between is shared with us via an info dump and I found myself wishing that we would have at least gotten to see the climactic end to the Wayward order. Fortunately, that wish ends up being granted much later in the story which I was very happy about. Aside from that one aspect, this really hit all the right notes for me plot-wise. The action scenes were spectacular and brutal, the conniving antics of the Vampire Court were a delight, and the story takes a handful of interesting twists as it zeroes in on it's conclusion. What's particularly impressive about the pacing of this story is that although it never really slows down, it also never felt rushed or exhausting. Every scene holds meaning and significance while every fight felt earned and rewarding.
Davion can easily be described as our primary protagonist for the events of this story. He takes on a little bit of a brooding hero architype, though given the losses he has suffered and how he needs to bury that grief for the sake of his own survival, it is easy to see why he acts the way he does. I really appreciated how we got to see him briefly in his former life and started to see through the cracks of his hardened exterior as his old self starts to return to him when he finally finds a sliver of hope to hold onto. It was also a joy to see how convincingly he could pose as a vampire and watching him trade political blows with the beautiful-but-dangerous Countess Fiona was a ton of fun. Fiona herself is a deeply interesting character and served as an excellent antagonist to Davion's efforts. Carneth is one character that I would have liked to see a little more of, but what we do get was quite compelling and I found him to be a very worthy secondary protagonist in his own right. He's also a character that brings a little bit of levity to what are some otherwise dark situations and I appreciated that he could deliver that without coming off as stupid, flippant, or just a little bit extra. Yasen doesn't take on a super prominent role, but I thought he was fascinating. His fierce intellect and how his motives seem rather ambiguous until later in the story made him such a brilliant minor character whose actions ultimately have some major impacts on the story at large. Similarly impactful and interesting is the Witch, Peregrine. While many aspects of her character remained a mystery even as the book ended, I really enjoyed the way that she was handled and thought that she contributed a lot to not only the plot, but the worldbuilding as well. Other characters like the Count that Davion serves, or the Baron and Baroness of the Vampire Court, as well as key members of Fiona's house all made for nice additions to the supporting cast. I really appreciated how each of them had little moments that made their characterization feel distinct and sometimes added a layer of depth that I was not expecting.
The world in which THE FEAR OF MONCROIX takes place is a particularly interesting aspect of the story. We only really get to see the region within Moncroix known as The Midlands and the continent itself is actually part of a much larger world of floating island-continents referred to as The Intercontinents. This gave the story that shared universe type of feel that you might get with a Marvel Movie or a Sanderson novel, but the story itself as well as this section of it do not require any knowledge of Asher's other books in order to be enjoyed. Other Intercontinents that exist are referenced, but there weren't any obvious crossovers that I was able to identify (at least in the sense that there weren't any moments where I was like "am I supposed to know what that means," or "should I know who that person is?"). I think this aspect of the worldbuilding works strongly in the books favor in that I never felt like I was missing out on something important, but I did feel simultaneously intrigued by other books set in this universe. Regardless of whether or not you feel the same, I think it's really impressive how the book can be enjoyed entirely on its own, while still being part of something much grander.
Getting into the aspects of the setting that are closer to the plot, everything is still fantastic. The world of the Vampire Court is one of tall, intricately detailed stone architecture, lavish parties, and decadent blood-infused delicacies. In some ways, it's what I'd expect from a society of scheming vampires, but in other ways, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The way that Vampires consumed blood was a rather interesting twist. I liked that feeding off of a live human is still the most premier way for a Vampire to get their fix, but that they also have other means of nourishing themselves with sweets, wines, and foods that are laced with the stuff. For some reason, the concept of vampires sipping on blood wine or munching on a blood-glazed carrot felt both more sophisticated and even more disturbing than them having to always go straight for the carotid. The way that their vampirism played into the magic of this world also made for a fun twist on typical vampiric lore. While the magic is decidedly "soft," I found the idea of it all being based on snares of different types that bind people to powerful spirits to be really creative. Things get especially interesting when we find out early on that snares can be manipulated to mimic other types of snares, effectively being what allows Davion to appear to be a vampire. This concept leads to some other interesting twists later on and while it's all very mysterious, I thought it was well executed and suited the overarching plot quite nicely. There are other aspects that would have been neat to see expanded upon like seeing more witches/warlocks or having werewolves play a bigger part (especially since there is one on the cover even though we never see one that's fully morphed into their wolf form during the story). I ultimately left feeling satisfied with what we got, but also hoping that Asher will return to Moncroix at some point to give us even more. One nitpick I have is that I wish some of the worldbuilding that was done via tiny info dumps would have been handled differently (like delivering some of it through dialogue), especially since that would have added to the more cinematic qualities of the plot.
First off, this has to be one of the most beautiful covers on my shelves. It is also one of the most impressive standard editions that I own since there are a handful of character illustrations and other little flourishes that adorn the pages and make the overall package feel that much more special. I noticed a few minor hiccups with the formatting of certain lines, but overall, this is a well-polished product that was the perfect size for some easy reading.
THE FEAR OF MONCROIX may or may not be for everyone, but if a fast-paced vampire action-drama with lots of cool worldbuilding and intriguing characters sounds like your cup of tea, then I think you might love this as much as I did. If you're someone looking for a nice pallet cleanser between massive fantasy epics, then this might be a solid choice for you as well.
(+) Pacing that never slows down, but also never felt exhausting or rushed.
(+) Intriguing and entertaining characters who are a little deeper and more nuanced than you might expect.
(+) Some very exciting action scenes that blend nicely with all the court conspiracy/intrigue.
(+) Some really interesting tidbits of worldbuilding that are sprinkled throughout.
(+) A satisfying conclusion that managed to keep with the pacing, but not feel abrupt.
(+) Some light mystery elements to keep readers guessing.
(+) A unique take on Vampires with interesting connections to the magic of this particular world.
(+) Lots of fun character interactions.
(-) Some very minor formatting hiccups with the paperback.
(-) An early time skip that threw me off a little as well as some tiny little info dumps that I would have rather seen delivered differently.