Review: ‘Department 19’ by Will Hill

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Department 19

Author: Will Hill

Format: author-signed paperback

Publisher: HarperCollins

Original Release Date: 3/29/2011

Length: 496 pages

Acquired: won in a publisher giveaway

Department 19 Website, Facebook & Twitter

This was first posted as a guest review at Waiting For Fairies

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The blurb from the website:

Jamie Carpenter’s life will never be the same. His father is dead, his mother is missing, and he was just rescued by an enormous man named Frankenstein.

Jamie is brought to Department 19, where he is pulled into a secret organization responsible for policing the supernatural, founded more than a century ago by Abraham Van Helsing and the other survivors of Dracula.

Aided by Frankenstein’s monster, a beautiful vampire girl with her own agenda, and the members of the agency, Jamie must attempt to save his mother from a terrifyingly powerful vampire.

Department 19 takes us through history, across Europe, and beyond – from the cobbled streets of Victorian London to prohibition-era New York, from the icy wastes of Arctic Russia to the treacherous mountains of Transylvania.

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My moderately spoilery thoughts:

Considering the fact that this is a YA book, I rather enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against YA, but at times the genre can be frustrating to read, as though YA writers assume that their readers aren’t mature or intelligent enough to handle content that’s a bit more complex. Some of the writing in Department 19 definitely seemed more appropriate for a younger crowd but all in all, it was fast-paced enough to keep the pages turning and intriguing enough to keep me thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. I also found myself anxious to get back to it as soon as possible whenever I had to put it down to eat or shower or sleep or work… pesky, pesky work.

Some of my favorite sections of this book dealt with the short glimpses back in history at the protagonist’s ancestors. Jamie Carpenter’s great-grandfather worked with the fabled Abraham Van Helsing and joined his circle of Dracula-staking buddies when Department 19, aka Blacklight, was formed in 1892, 100+ years before Jamie’s story begins. His grandfather met and befriended Frankenstein’s monster, who seemed quite civilized and took on his creator’s name after he passed. Finally we learn more about his father Julian, who was also a member of Department 19 and who apparently betrayed it, and so is much hated by the time Jamie is tossed headfirst into insanity.

Before the events in this story, neither Jamie or his mother had any knowledge of the classified, vampire-killing, militant branch of the government which his father had been an honored member. He was honored before that whole betrayal thing, anyway, after which his colleagues tracked him down and summarily executed him in his driveway in front of his family. I had a hard time swallowing such fly-off-the-handle type of behavior from a highly-trained, professional organization, but I didn’t let it detract (much) from the rest of the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the author touted Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a chronicle of true events, rather than a work of fiction. As one Department 19 Operator explains to a civilian after she admits that she has read Stoker’s book, “It’s not a story; it’s a history lesson.” Though that reminded me of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, in which Dracula is essentially a How-to guide for killing vampires of the Black Court, the concept fit well and the premise opened the door for the inclusion of Frankenstein’s character, which added some spice to the story.

Jamie is torn from his life as an awkward teen when his mother is kidnapped by one of the oldest vamps in the world, after which he is rescued from the same vamp by yet another monster straight out of a horror story. A monster who happened to be pals with his dad, once upon a time (no pun intended). Of course, neither Jamie or his mother had any knowledge of the vampire-killing militant branch of the government before this story takes place so we get a lot of info-dumping to catch Jamie (us) up on the history of the organization and his family’s part in it. I feel that Hill did a great job of fleshing out Jamie’s character, from the vehement anger at his father for his betrayal and for his lies about his job to Jamie and his mother, to his stubborn insistence in ignoring what he’s told by senior members of Blacklight. I often found his behavior exceedingly annoying but it was probably pretty accurate for a teenaged boy.

Aside from a bit of choppy jumping back and forth action toward the end of the book, the only issue I had with the story was the excessive gore. Yes, I do realize that this is a Stoker-esque portrayal of vamps as blood-sucking monsters and that much blood and murder and mayhem is likely to take place, but the book is aimed at a 12+ audience and I just felt that it was a little too bloody for the pre-teen set. I got the feeling while reading the many fight scenes that the author was writing something as anti-Twilight as possible and while I approve, multiple mentions of characters being soaked in blood and then the image of a vampire covered in gore from head to toe, flinging drops of blood from her hair in the midst of battle, was just a wee bit much.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this read to anyone who wants a good ole vamp-staking story. There are cool weapons, a lot of action, and an impressively in-depth history of the Blacklight organization, as well as a dun-dun-dun-DUNNNN ending that will, hopefully, make you look forward to the next book, Department 19: The Rising, as much as I do. (teaser chapters here)

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