Book review: Department 19 by Will Hill (HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, 2011)
In a secret supernatural battle that’s been raging for over a century, the stakes have just been raised – and they’re not wooden anymore.
When Jamie Carpenter’s mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government’s most secret agency.
Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can’t stand up against…
We came across this Young Adult book at Asda, and the Squeeze picked it up as it seemed intriguing. He read it, said it was very good, and then it was my turn. He wasn’t wrong!
The book opens with a young Jamie Carpenter, who sees his father getting shot by what appears to be a SWAT team. Years later, when he’s about 16 or 17, his mother is abducted and he finds himself with his father’s old workmates. It’s just that Jamie’s dad never worked at a desk in a boring office … that was just a cover. He was actually part of a military style organisation, Department 19, protecting us common folk from the creatures that inhabit the shadows and the night. Vampires, for instance.
At Department 19, Jamie gets trained to fight vampires, as it would appear one of the most badass of vampires after Dracula himself has kidnapped his mother. He has to struggle with prejudices from his new colleagues, as his father was infamous for having betrayed the organisation. What’s to say his son won’t go the same way? Especially when there’s a very special vampire girl kept prisoner, and after all, he’s a teenager …
The surprising thing about this book, is that I think it says 13+ on the back. If it was a film, it would have been rated 18 for the amount of blood and gore involved. There’s a lot. On the other hand, these are real vampires – the kind that have the common decency to burst into flame in sunlight – and there’s bound to be blood.
Department 19 was founded by a group of people, amongst them Van Helsing, whom I had heard of based on films like, oh, Van Helsing. The rest of them had names that didn’t really mean a lot, until now that I’m reading Dracula. The people from Dracula founded Department 19 and are the ancestors of the people running it today. (Intertextuality ftw!) If I had known that at the time of reading this, I probably would have had a different appreciation of it. As it were, I just appreciated it for being a decent vampire novel.
Even though it’s technically for Young Adults, it doesn’t feel like it. Sure, the main protagonist is a teenager, and has teenager issues, but don’t let that fool you. Department 19 is a high tempo action novel, and the way new author Will Hill uses language, reading it is like watching a film; you can picture everything very clearly, and it’s brilliant.
The sequel, Department 19: The Rising, is set to be released in March this year. Both the Squee and myself are waiting eagerly for that. Congratulations on a successful debute, Mr. Hill; you’ve got at least two fans in Nottingham. Speaking of which, kudos for the East Midlands, specifically the outskirts of Nottingham (wahey!) and the Derbyshire moors, being used as a settings as well. Nottinghamshire is not just for D.H. Lawrence, after all!
If you want a book that’s difficult to put down, yet still easy to read and follow, and that’s about vampires who actually suck people’s blood and that need a good staking to die, I’d recommend it, even if it’s quite man-heavy (the only real female parts in it are Jamie’s missing mum and the vampire girl, and toward the end, a girl from Lindisfarne; the rest are male). On the other hand, it’s a novel directed at teenage males, so it’s not unexpected, and the girls get to hold their own as well.
5 out of 5 T-Bones, even though it was technically a bit too gory for my liking.