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Saturday, July 9, 2011

YA book for strong-stomached young adults




When Jamie Carpenter’s mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government’s most secret agency.

Thus reads the blurb on the back of the paperback of Will Hill’s Department 19.

Consequently, when I added it to my pile of children’s/young adults’ books, I imagined I was buying a spin-off of Anthony Horowitz’s mega-selling Alex Rider series about a teenaged James Bond. Instead, however, I found just another ...

... vampire book.

Oh dear. Will Hill has an afterword in which he thanks a number of people, many of them with the surname King. He also gives several writers credit for inspiration, a list that includes Stephen King and JK Rowling, but not the dreaded Stephanie Meyer. Yet, if there was ever a spin-off from Meyer, this is the one. There are even vampires that control their base desire for human blood and prey on animals instead, just like Meyer’s coven – though Hill does have the sensitivity to have them feeding on cows, leaving endangered species in peace.

There is also an unacknowledged debt to Horowitz – though Jamie Carpenter has much less character and angst than young Rider, he has natural skills with all kinds of guns, earning himself lots of claps from admiring Department 19 toughs. Instead of human villains, he battles vampire nasties, with the help of teenaged vampire Larissa, who is not only beautiful (except when her eyes go red) but is also the only well developed character in the book.

Larissa can’t bear to suck human veins, so feeds on the blood scattered around the walls – and there is plenty of that. The word “abattoir” is used quite a lot. The vampire nasties are also incredibly sadistic, in the legendary Bram Stoker mode.

So, it sounds as if it would take a strong-stomached teenager to enjoy this book. It is quite harmless, however , being so comic-book in style that it is impossible to take it seriously.

Hill does have a fertile imagination, and writes well enough to make this a page-turner. If he turned to adult science fiction/fantasy, the result could be very interesting.

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