Clan Ventrue is the vampire clan of nobles, knights, politicians, and executives. Serving as the suave leaders of the Camarilla, they've always been somewhat vanilla compared to other Clans. Many of the great villains of the setting have been Ventrue like Prince Lodin, Hardelstadt the Younger, and Sebastian La Croix. They've also been the protagonists of many works like Prince Julian Luna from the ill-fated Kindred the Embraced. This book does a decent job exploring the contrast of the Ventrue's affable leadership contrasted to their dark entitled self. They may not be as exciting a set of leaders as the Lasombra, Tzimisce, Toreador, or Tremere but they get the job done.
The premise of this novel is that we get a sense of how the Camarilla is responding to the Sabbat's successful invasion of over a dozen cities. The Fall of Atlanta was terrible but it is the fall of Washington D.C. that has caused the Camarilla to panic. Well, perhaps panic is not the best word as the Inner Council sends not even a Justicar to defend the New World's cities but a single representative in Jan Pieterzoon. The city of Baltimore, Maryland becomes the establishment's new headquarters with the arrogant Prince Garlotte as the new defender of "civilized" vampiredom. Jan must work with Prince Garlotte, refugee demagogue Victoria Ash, archon Theo Bell, and the mysterious Prince Marcus Vitel to try to stop the Sabbat onslaught.
A major theme of the book is how the Ventrue appear to be caring leaders but are awful people underneath. Ironically, I think Garlotte actually works better than cover character Jan Pieterzoon in establishing this. Garlotte is a self-absorbed administrator who isn't anywhere near the most powerful Prince in America but threatens to turn the entire defense into his own personal army. Despite this, he's actually fairly lenient with his childer and is humanized in his lust with Victoria Ash as well as genuine desire to turn back the Sabbat. In the end, he has to choose whether he must continue being a soft touch or destroy the things he loves in life for power. Given this is the World of Darkness, his choice shouldn't come as a surprise but somehow does.
Jan Pierterzoon is the protagonist of the books and a character I have mixed feelings on. He appears to be a somewhat ignorant (not believing in the Antediluvians) herald for his sire but one of the least horrible vampires we've met so far. This is subverted when he find out what Jan's feeding restriction (which all Ventrue suffer from) is. He can only prey upon certain types of people and the realization is suitably nightmarish. On the other hand, it feels a bit cheap as well as if they wanted a way to show that Jan had a dark side and went with the most obviously "bad" thing they could. The way he fetishizes trauma victims is also more relevant now when criticizing self-styled "heroes" that we understand things a bit better than the Nineties.
This is an intensely political book with lots of backstabbing, manipulation, and seduction. Surprisingly, this is probably the best book for Victoria Ash of Clan Novel: Toreador. While she plays the role of femme fatale, using her Presence to bring lust back into the hearts of Kindred who have long since abandoned the need for sexual urges, she's also someone trying to recover from torture at the hands of the Tzimisce. This includes her killing some fifteen or sixteen mortals to repair the horrible damage done both internally as well as externally. Not all scars can be healed with the blood, though, and she struggles to regain control over her life. She's a much more interesting character this way and it's a shame the book doesn't have more scenes about her.
There's some strange elements to the book that don't quite jive with the tabletop RPG. For example, Jan Pieterzoon is extremely concerned about needing surgery to reset his leg and other issues but the vast majority of vampires, barring Final Death, just need to spend more blood. He's also a very strange choice to lead the defense of the New World versus any Justicar or someone with military experience. That's part of the point but the reason why they send Hardestadt's errand boy is never made clear. Also, Jan spends much of the book running and injured, which is weird for an Elder who has a superpower specifically related to not getting injured.
I also appreciate the fact that we get insight into Prince Garlotte's brood of childer. Isaac, Fin, and Katrina who add a new dimension to Clan Ventrue. Isaac is the somewhat dull and uninspired but extremely loyal Sheriff. Fin is the romantic vampire teenager deeply in love with his girlfriend Morena but unaware just how much danger he's put her in. Katrina is a lesbian in a polyamorous relationship that was Embraced to be a substitute for the Prince's wife.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book but I feel like Jan Pieterzoon is actually the biggest weakness in it. While Garlotte and his brood is fascinating, Jan is somewhat one-dimensionally loyal to the Camarilla with a disgusting weakness. I actually wanted to get back to the Prince and his childer or Victoria Ash's scheming for the majority of the book.