Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

A few weeks ago now, I was amazingly lucky. I was asked to be a member of the judging panel who pick the winner for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, which involved arguing over books for 5 hours in an office in London, & then a few weeks later, attending an author laden soiree known as the Prize Announcement. There was free wine, I think I managed to maintain composure quite well considering. I managed to meet some wonderful booksellers, publisher types, and, of course, authors. There was one author in particular I was very anxious to meet though, after his nominated first book Geekhood had practically lifted entire passages out of my own teenage years in eerie familiarity: Andy Robb, whom I’ve bantered back & forth with on Twitter for some time now. And meet him I did, very early on in the evening, he came straight up to me, stuck out his hand, & became lodged in my brain as one of the nicest, most genuine & modest individuals I have ever met. Seriously, if he does an event near you, GO. He’s got a great mix of enthusiasm & genuine passion for what he writes about, it’s brilliantly infectious! (Hi Andy, are you blushing yet?)

Geekhood: Mission Improbable's cover

Geekhood: Mission Improbable’s cover

Geekhood: Mission Improbable picks up two weeks after the ending to Geekhood (Spoilers for the first book will be in here), after Archie’s doomed, tear-soaked attempt to win Goth Girl Sarah’s heart. The gang are back in full force, Beggsy, Ravi, Matt, Sarah, Jason Humphries, Tony & of course, Archie’s beloved IM. The story follows Archie’s attempts to coolly brush off what happened between him & Sarah, but cool quickly turns into running-and-hiding, much to the disappointment of his Geek herd, who desperately want him to move on, so they can have Sarah as part of the group again. However, Archie & his witty Inner Monologue have other things to worry about, as the first weekend away to York to stay with his Dad & Jane, as well as her kids, is rapidly approaching. To add insult to the social stresses required in such a trek, Archie is going to be missing out on the biggest party event of his Geeky little life: An Actual Party. With girls. And everyone is going except him. Spirits are lifted on Archie’s train journey North though, where we meet the first new character of the book, the dark and mysterious Clare. She’s strong, she’s confident, she’s SIXTEEN, and she’s *ahem* developed. Despite her assets, Archie finds himself strangely not overly attracted to her, but he does find her a comforting target for venting his feelings about Sarah. But when Clare suggests a treacherous entangled web of lies to help her & Archie get what their respective desires, Archie’s not sure what strange Underdark his life has turned into…

The first book's jacket.

The first book’s jacket.

Geekhood made me laugh my pants off. Not literally, but pretty close. Geekhood: Mission Improbable delivered YET AGAIN a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek blend of childish humour, self deprecation, cringe-tastic embarrassment, and also heartfelt warmth & emotional growth. These characters have really started to develop into rounded, passionate human beings, & more importantly, they’re realising that Geeks can be part of normal society too. The first thing that really breaks the mould in this book is the introduction of LARPing, which for the uninitiated, I should explain. Live Action Roleplaying (LARP) is a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, only you play it in a field, in full dress armour & foam weapons, & fully taking on your character’s persona. I’ve never played it myself, but it sure does sound pretty cool. Our Geeky core, along with Sarah & her friend Caitlyn obviously think so too, & in Mission Improbable, they take a weekend away to bask in glorious Geekdom.

The existing characters from Geekhood are all back, & character development is well under way, & their growth has helped me warm to them even more than I already had. Matt has found a potential pairing in new character, & secret Geek Caitlyn, helping boil off some of his bitter sarcasm, helping him to become a much sweeter, albeit still hesitant, character. One of the major character arcs in the second book though is from Archie’s hyperactive, overly excitable mate Beggsy. Normally expressing himself through vulgar euphemisms & various pitches of “Dude!”, in Mission Improbable Beggsy really starts to develop emotionally, proving himself a deeply moral and thoughtful character with a strong sense of friendship & loyalty. I really enjoyed that. Archie’s Stepdad is also taking a good direction, dropping the trademark “Tony the Tosser” from book one, & starting not to try so hard, he’s become a much more relatable character for Archie. Except for the “Ferret Socks” sequence, which had me cringing so hard I thought I might turn inside out. Sarah has also built up considerably as a rounded individual, especially as Archie gets to know her better, & starts to see sides to her that in the first book had remained hidden. Archie is, of course, still on top Geeky form, his IM working hilarious overtime. Andy still seems to have stolen aspects of my own teen years into making up Archie’s personality in a terrifying way (HECK, I even had a crush on a girl named Sarah whilst I was at school. She’s unlikely to be reading this. If she is, hi Sarah.), particularly his lack of confrontational skills, a problem that has plagued me most of my life, and which in Mission Improbable really helped me connect with the character’s decisions right away.

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My own Dark Knight bookmark in my copy of the book…

So yet again, Andy has managed to deliver laughs ‘till you cry, serious emotional sections (Archie & his Dad in York was heartbreaking), all sprinkled with a healthy dose of teen angst & of course GEEK CULTURE. The references are all crisp, & unlike shows like The Big Bang Theory (I am not a fan), the writer is clearly familiar with his source material, and has a deep amount of respect and passion for the subject matter he’s dealing with. Once again, as with Geekhood, he also manages to nail the demeanour of adolescent boys, particularly the more sensitive Geeky types. OH, And the Dark Knight Returns is featured prominently, which just can’t be a bad thing, as its Frank Miller Batman joy at its finest. Also, Andy if you’re reading, I went into that Games Workshop in York many many times, which makes you some sort of Illithid psychic beastie. And good job on the Drow, they’re my favourites & I got a bit over excited at the mention of Lolth.

For those of you who aren’t Andy: STOP READING ME & GO READ GEEKHOOD.

Same Bat Place, Same Bat Time…

D

P.S. There’s a great interview with Andy over at the delightfully talented blog of Sister Spooky.

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Department 19 by Will Hill

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.

D