Department 19 is a new YA supernatural, action/adventure, horror novel from debut author Will Hill. It’s not a book I can review without a couple of little spoilers. You have been warned!
Let me start off by saying that I enjoyed Department 19 and that I’ll most likely read the forthcoming sequel (April 2012). This book has a lot going for it — but there are also a few things that just didn’t quite work for me.
The Department 19 of the title is a secret British government organisation that deals with supernatural threats, particularly vampires. It was started many years ago by Van Helsing and his associates, not long after the Dracula incident. (Yes, that’s right, Bram Stoker’s novel is actually a historical account rather than a work of fiction.) Jamie Carpenter is the teenaged descendent of Van Helsing’s valet, and his father Julian has been a secret operative for Department 19 for many years. Two years after Julian Carpenter has been declared a traitor and killed, Jamie’s mother is taken hostage by Alexandru, the second-oldest vampire in the world. Jamie suddenly finds himself immersed in a world he didn’t even know existed. With the assistance of Frankenstein’s monster and a teenage girl vampire, Jamie sets out to rescue his mother and clear his father’s name.
Department 19 is a complete story in it’s own right, but there is also a lot of set-up for the sequel (sequels?).
Department 19 is fast-paced, action-filled and really rather violent — perhaps a little too violent for its advertised age group of 12+. Despite all the guns and blood and dismemberment, the violence is, thankfully, not treated lightly. Jamie even spends times considering it after he is hurt.
“I got hurt today. Not as badly as you, I know, but I got burnt. And it made me realise something, you know? It made me realise that this isn’t a game, or a film, where the good guys win in the end and the bad guys get what’s coming to them. It’s real life, and it’s messy, and it’s complicated, and I’m scared…”
Clichés abound, but for the most part they work quite well. I must say that I enjoyed reading about good old-fashioned, villainous vampires driven by blood-lust, rather than the angsty, lovelorn variety. The main vampires are well defined, their varying motivations making them interesting. There is a heavy reliance on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is fair enough, but I personally would have preferred the titular character to remain dead. (Yes folks, that’s one of the spoilers I warned you about. Sorry!)
The character of Jamie is well handled, both in terms of his initial disorientation and growing determination. He is not always likeable, but it is easy to understand his choices given his situation. Most of the principal supporting characters, such as Frankenstein’s monster (who has adopted the name of his creator) are reasonably handled.
While the plot is interesting and moves at a cracking pace, it is a little predictable at times. There is no surprise when the traitor is revealed, and this character’s motivations are very clichéd.
Hill’s style is, for the most part, very readable and his plotting competent. But I did find there were moments of over-description, poor editing (the mixing up of two character names, Willis and Haslett, on p.201) and logic lapse that pulled me out of the moment. The most notable case is the inconsistency of the offensive/defensive capabilities of the good guys. It is established early on that they use ultra-violet light as a weapon against the vampires. Yet there is not a single UV light used in defence of the base that is attacked by the vampires, thus allowing the vampires a ridiculously easy victory in their assault.
My opinion of Department 19 teeters. There are elements that don’t work for me. But there is no doubt that I still enjoyed it. Read it and make up your own mind!
Has anyone out there read this book already? Opinions? Post a comment!
Catch ya later, George
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