I’m back! Christmas is coming to the lovely Waterstones Northallerton, and we’ve got some great temps in this year, the decorations are all hung, and even the most cynical of hearts is going to warm! I promise.
I actually got Department 19 as my very FIRST proof from a publisher, the superb Harper Collins, around this time last year. I read a brief blurb in their industry rag, the Harper Insider, and decided it couldn’t hurt to send them an email. Very soon, a lovely bound, uncorrected proof was in my hands, and I was very excited. It sounded just my sort of thing: Vampires, Violence and Government Cover-ups! I reviewed it at the time, which can be seen here, but then it was included in the WCBP2012 longlist, so I thought, for such a great book, I’d give it a revisit!
Jamie Carpenter’s father was killed in his front garden when he was just a boy. Gunned down by government operatives in sleek black uniforms. He was a terrorist, Jamie was told, working from the inside of the British government, to bring horrible attacks to the innocent British people. Jamie and his mother had to move, again and again, all over the country. Where ever they went, rumours followed them, bullying started, and they had to move on. Now in his teens, Jamie is bitter, angry and resentful towards life, school, people and his mother. It’s all everyone else’s fault, his father wasn’t a terrorist, he was a good man, and Jamie knows that. Jamie spends too much time arguing with his mother to see she needs him, and too much time away from school. One night, after a long excursion to avoid another day of classes, Jamie is approached by a mysterious girl in the park. Small, skinny and pale, she mocks him with her mischievous dark eyes, before letting him pass. When he gets home, his mother is gone, and the house is dark. Then Jamie meets Frankenstein. THE Frankenstein. And everything he ever knew gets turned upside down. His father was not a terrorist, he worked for the shadowy government agency called Department 19. Bram Stoker had been right all along. Vampires are real. The pace turns up then, One of Dracula’s (the first vampire) henchmen, is trying to resurrect the Dark Prince, and has Jamie’s mother to help in the process. The Department have captured one of the Vampire gang who kidnapped Jamie’s mother: The pale, skinny girl he met that night… Larissa. So, with the knowledge that he has to stop the return of the most heinous Vampire known to man, and with a vampire and the lumbering creation of Dr. Frankenstein in tow, Jamie sets out.
I loved Department 19, the action is fast paced, the violence is HIGH, and the Vampires are just what they should be: Evil. I’m sorry, but I’m starting to get sick of Vampires becoming mysterious lovely strangers, and Twilight never cut it for me. This is a great title for boys who may well be interested in supernatural titles, who are put off by the fairly feminine imagery of other series. The main pulling point of this one, besides a great amount of action, is it’s dedicated to classical horror literature. It references the amazing Bram Stoker’s Dracula heavily, as well as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, which is a great way of introducing kids to some of the best horror literature of all time (if you are inspired kids, I also recommend some H.P. Lovecraft! Ia Ia!), and really lends to plot to Department 19 some depth and historical weight, which again is further built upon by some great, tense, flashback sections with a real sense of nostalgia for the old days of Vampire Hunting. Modern day, good dialogue helps none action sequences travel well, and character development is quick and simple, with the exception of Jamie (I’ll get to him in a minute). Like I said, the gore is high in this title, with Vampires torturing and massacring like it’s AD700, and it sets the Vamps up as proper bad guys, ruthless, merciless and souless. Alexandru, Dracula’s main man, is a brilliantly cold, superior being with a love of death and carnage, and makes a fantastic nemesis.
Now, the main complaint I’ve read/heard is that Jamie isn’t a very likeable character. People have told me his anger and complaining put them off, but I really warmed to him after a short time, and here’s why: His Dad is murdered. His Mum, the only remaining member of his family is in the hands of murderous vampires, I’d say he’s highly entitled to some rage and moaning times. I love Harry Potter, but boy does the kids go off on some frustrating rants from time to time. It’s expected, and it makes the characters more rounded individuals, so stop hating on Jamie, he’s a strong, compassionate character, with an awful lot stacked against him.
That is All.