A childhood dream fulfilled – a Review of Ruby Redfort: Look Into My Eyes by Lauren Child

As a kid I utterly loved the Clarice Bean books, and used to spend hours wishing that the fictional Ruby Redfort novels Clarice reads in her novels actually existed. So imagine my excitement when no less than eight years later…Lauren Child actually wrote one. I’d been waiting, quite literally, half my life.

I was even lucky enough to meet Lauren herself, and get a signed copy. A Ruby badge reading ‘Hey bozo’ now takes pride of place on my jacket.

The story follows Ruby, a smart and bored American rich kid in the 1970s who is recruited as as codebreaker by the mysterious spy agency Spectrum. Ruby is not only far brainier than the average 13 year old but also has a biting and oddly cynical sense of humour. She also has a whole host of taglines such as ‘Watch it, buster’ and ‘Sure thing, bozo.’ You can’t help but love her, and the light hearted dialogue concealed a wry, almost adult humour. The rest of the cast are an equally interesting bunch, from the suave spy/butler Hitch, to the kickass housekeeper Mrs Digby. Yeah, even the names of the characters immediately give you a good idea of what they are like. Imagine, for example, Count von Viscount – I don’t even need to tell you that he’s evil and wears a cloak.

School work and laziness conspired to prevent me from finishing it until now and reading the book in two sittings, I actually got very different impressions of the two halves of the book.

I was very disappointed with the first half; it seemed almost forced. Child’s witty style of writing, with all its colourful characters and cheesy Americanisms, totally fell flat against what I percieved as an abject lack of plot. I was actually bored, which was a tragedy after how excited I’d been to read it. In depression, I put it aside.

Then, picking it up again a few months later, I raced through the second half and loved every minute. The plot zipped along in all its purposefully cliched glory, smattered with tidbits of clues and details of an exaggerated America Child is clearly having loads of fun creating, and there were moments where I laughed out loud. It leads me to wonder if I’d been having a bad day when I read the first half, and to basically ignore my opinion of it, other than the fact that the plot definately does come together more once Ruby has been ‘recruited’.

Though this novel obviously owes its existance to the Clarice Bean series, it is in no way related, and is written entirely differently. It’s the sheer ridiculousness of the book which gives it such charm. Everything is over the top, and stereotyped, and it’s absolutely wonderful to the point where I think that the younger audience might not appreciate how clever it is.

I recommend this to all the readers who, like me, spent their years reading Clarice Bean wishing for Ruby Redfort as well. I would also recommend it to anyone who’s interested in a fun, refreshing take on the ‘child spy’ genre.

Gilbert and Sullivan in Zero G – a Review of A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Once again, I was lucky enough to be able to read this novel early after picking up a test copy (complete with typos) from my work experience. Haw haw haw, smug face.

The combination of ‘Garth Nix’ and ‘space’ and ‘some badass looking bloke’ meant that this cover literally jumped up in my face screaming ‘Read me! READ ME!’ Then I started jumping up and down screaming, because I love Garth Nix, and I love space operas… so understandably, I was incredibly excited. (Who doesn’t love space stuff, really? Even all those people who pretend that they hate sci-fi SECRETLY watch Battlestar Gallactica or Trek, and pretend to be Jedi when no-one is looking.)

And for people who freely admit to loving sci-fi novels, Peter F Hamilton himself approves of this book. Oh yes. It has, he says (and I quote): ‘kicked off a whole new Golden Age of SF.’ I seriously hope so, because that would be blimming awesome!

Ha! Our cover is way better than the Ozzy one, even though they got it earlier of course.

Now, I’ve had ‘Garth Nix Megafan’ stamped on my conciousness since I read Mr Monday, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never really been able to get into any of his other series’. No, not even the Old World Trilogy! But trust me – after reading Confusion of Princes, I’ll be going straight back to the library to try them agian. Because Confusion of Princes had my heart pounding (being mortal as I am, and unable to self-regulate my physical responses).

Khemri is a Prince of the Empire, meaning he’s an augmented superhuman destinied to become ruler of (hopefully) several systems, and with a bit of luck, perhaps even the next Emporer. What Khemri doesn’t realise (after having lived for the first sixteen years of his life in a temple), is that there are about a squillion other Princes, most older, wiser, and even more ambitious than him…and all out to kill eachother. So begins a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure which I thouroughly enjoyed every minute of.

Khemri is the best hero I’ve read in a while, possibly so far this year. He is arrogant, superior, and spoilt as hell. Yet he is also intelligent, quick to learn, and utterly relatable. The other characters are equally sharply observed, and it’s definately a mark of a good novel when characters who don’t have much ‘screen time’ seem as real as the protagonist – which here notably includes Raine and Tyrtho.

The surprisingly large number of laughs in this book often came from Khemri’s shrewdly observed and sardonic narration, and his equally amusing remarks – he definately tells it how it is. Some of my personal favourites include:

“You mean I’ll have to join the Navy.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Shit.”

This is soon followed by:

“Okay, damn it. I’ll join the Navy.”

Khemri goes on a massive personal journey through the novel. He starts off thinking he is literally the Empire’s gift to the universe, and he neither understands or values the meaning of friendship – let alone love. Very quickly, however, (starting on about page 3) he is given a large kick up the bum to slowly start down the path of ‘Not Being an Obnoxious Douchebag.’ As he is forced to mingle with commoners, mortals and all sorts of other scum, he begins not only develop emotions but start to wonder if maybe being a high and mighty Prince isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Perhaps commandeering a fleet of spaceships and bedding loads of courtesans is not the meaning of life after all?

The story rollicks along wonderfully, with some hair-raising and highly inventive action sequences which had me on the edge of my seat. Nix is, to my extreme joy, equally adept at the character-interaction based scenes as he is at the all-guns-blazing fanboy moments. He has created a gloriously intricate universe, considering that this is just a stand alone novel (fingers crossed he’ll change his mind!). It’s full to bursting with all sorts of weird and wonderful technology, and the potential for what he could do with it is pretty much endless. I only wish that this novel had been slightly longer, and had lingered on all the fabulous detail a little more.

The ending does not go out with quite as big a bang as the previous action sequences, and I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see the Big Reveal, ie. the moment when ‘Khem’ reveals to the Puny Humans that he is in fact Prince Khemri. This pathetic moaning is however utterly beside the point: the point being that the whole book was amazing, and there was simply just nothing else I could possibly pick holes in.

Whether you’re a Garth Nix fan or you’ve never even heard of him, you love sci -fi or you refuse to read anything but handbooks on rearing sheep: go buy this novel now. No seriously, it’s wonderful. It’s well written, original, and has the perfect blend of action, humour, and yes even romance.

Hats off to Nix, because it’s probably the best space opera I’ve ever read – and I’ve read Star Wars novelisations. ;D

It’s better than Divergent – a Review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I was incredibly lucky to get my hands onto this highly anticipated sequel before it has actually come out. It’s released on the 1st of May, everyone! That means, get pre-ordering…or camp overnight at your nearest Waterstones.

You may know that I wasn’t exactly what you could call a fan of Divergent. But when I began reading Insurgent, I was amazed. It’s far better than the first – in fact, I really enjoyed it.

If you loved Divergent, you’ll absolutely adore Insurgent.

Watch the Trailer Video Here 😀

(I’ve gotta admit this purple covers are nowhere near as badass as the shiny metallic ones which I believe are being released in the US. Is it just me or does it really remind you of the cover of Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever?)

Now I’m going to try and review it without giving out spoilers – I can tell you that it picks up straight where Divergent left off,  and the action begins immediately…and doesn’t let off for the entire novel. This was a vast improvement on Divergent, in which basically nothing happened until page 300.

Here’s the synopsis:

War looms in sixteen-year-old Tris’s dark dystopian world as disputes between the factions grow. Tris must now fight against all odds to discover the truth that can save her and the people she loves. Sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge – and the choices she makes will have devastating and unexpected consequences.
The city is descending into chaos, and everyone is being forced to pick sides. Slowly, however, Tris begins to discover that there is more to her world than she seems. Her entire way of life has been founded on an incredible secret – a secret which will rock the foundations of everything the characters know. Tris desperately fights to uncover the truth in a world where people are more determined than ever to fight eachother, and the difference between right and wrong is becoming harder and harder to distinguish. All of the characters are forced to question their beliefs and ideals, and what they percieve to be real. No-one more so than Tris, who is forced to make some very tough decisions, as well as work with people she would rather not.
What I love about Roth is that she doesn’t shy away from the questions of morality – these books aren’t black and white. The issues they touch on leave characters (and will probably leave readers too) divided, and through it all Tris is trying her utmost to do what she believes is the right thing. All the characters swing between different shades of grey, which made them interesting, complex, and very believable. It was fascinating to get a closer look at the Factions of Candor and Amity- as well as the Factionless – and to see the differences in their ways of life. The way the Factionless live is a big surprise for Tris, who of course believes that being Factionless must be worse than being dead…
The entire story is utterly heart-pounding, with explosive action scenes as well as brilliantly executed dialogue. Roth’s incredibly well-written narration and speech more than makes up for the occasional  skimp on world building description. I also managed to get over my annoyance at the lack of weapons technicalities, which helped me to enjoy the fight scenes a lot more.

I actually preferred both of the main characters in this book. I felt able to empathise a lot more with Tris, who really grows as a character through the novel. She struggles after the loss of her parents, and the consuming guilt she feels over Will. But she’s strong, and she keeps on pulling through it. I occasionally felt like she was crying a little too often, but then realised that if it was me, I’d have been crying non-stop. The fact that she still kicks butt, and is still super smart, is tribute to her – she’s a real hero. She’s also written brilliantly, the thoughts swirling through her mind bounce off every page – and it’s great fun as a reader to be able to pick out the trains of though which identify her different aptitudes for Dauntless, Abnegation and Erudite.

I also liked Tobias better, which may or may not be mainly due to the fact that he’s now called Tobias…rather than the rather robotic sounding ‘Four’. He seemed to have become better at expressing his emotions, while still remaining iron to the core – don’t worry, there’s no way he’s going soppy any time soon!

Veronica Roth also gets massive bonus points for not feeling the need to put irritating love triangles in to keep the story going, which sets Insurgent about 3 squillion miles above most YA novels for sheer literary class. There was oodles of hooky story, so the romance between characters was a subtle and sweet bonus. For those of you who love Tobias and Tris together, you’re going to ship them even harder after reading this. The minor characters were utterly fantastic as well – I especially adored Lynn, and the constant banter between all the teenagers was refreshing, funny and extremely believable to read.

When the time came for the final plot reveal, the book had built to an exciting and heart-breaking conclusion. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming from a long way – but it was utterly perfect and created a cliff hanger ending that leaves you begging for more.

One tiny comment I will make (yeah I know, here I go as usual) is that occasionally the story wasn’t executed as tightly as it could have been. There were scenes where some plot developments and plans seemed slightly too basic and underdeveloped to be real life. This however really isn’t going to even occur to anyone who isn’t reading it with a critic’s mardy, beady eye, ie. yours truly.

I wasn’t insanely crazy about this book in the way I know some people are, but I did absolutely love it. It kept me turning pages in a big way, and made me chuckle as well as making me think. I’ll definately be keeping my eyes peeled for the next installment!

Oh, and I still haven’t figured out whether I’m Amity or Dauntless. Do you reckon I can call myself a Dauntity? It sounds better than Amtless…

If I don’t like this book, do I become Factionless? – a Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

After managing to get my hands on the highly anticipated sequel Insurgent before its release date on May 1, Divergent was promoted to the top of my reading list.

Yes, jammy git that I am, I’m reading Insurgent already, and a spoiler-free review will be up within the next two days – aren’t you all jealous.

Divergent was a bit of a risk for me when I picked it up (it looked distinctly like a romance novel with a bit of sci fi in to make itself feel hardcore) but I knew how popular it was, so I hoped I’d really enjoy it. Especially since the concept of all the different factions is incredibly fascinating, and had my brain whirring before I’d even started the book.

So first, for some Factional Intrigue (wahey, I’m cracking jokes already). I’d suck in this world, because I already know that I’d have utterly divided loyalty between the factions of Amity and Dauntless…and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how the conflicting values of both would mean I’d never be totally happy living in either. Technically, I guess, I’m a Divergent. Yippee! But I reckon in real life, most people are. You simply wouldn’t be able to just chop up the population like that in reality. Since, however, (to my great sadness) books aren’t actually reality, that really doesn’t matter.

Here is the shiny cover which I reckon is a lot more awesome looking than the weird purple one.

I’m going to spend the rest of this review trying not to compare Divergent to The Hunger Games  – the similarities are more than skin deep but they’re all dead obvious if you’ve read the book (Dystopian-future, female narrator, lots of kids trying to do eachother in, and thus onwards and so forth).

There is however one similarity I think is relevant:

Both The Hunger Games and Divergent recieved a crazy amount of hype, and I *foolishly* went in to both with exteremely high expectations.

Unlike probably every other teenage, female YA reader on the planet…I finished both books feeling distinctly…disappointed.

Indeed you could say… my satisFACTION levels were very low. (See what I did there? Heh, heh, heh.)

The thing is (and I bravely write this from under my kitchen table) I actually found Divergent really boring. 

(We can go into why  I think The Hunger Games is stupidly overhyped another day, remember to come armed with rotten fruit to throw at me.)

For the first three hundred pages of Veronica Roth’s novel, nothing actually happened. Yeah sure, so Tris made a major desicion, and changed her life to become a Dauntless. But then what? She and the other initiates hung out in a cavern, doing nothing except learning how to beat eachother up, with the occaisional random death/yet another darn tattoo/oh my god look at Four’s chiselled cheekbones/butter-knife-to-the-eye incident to make it all a little more interesting. But I wasn’t interested!

I thought this book was going to be a riveting narrative about how Tris’s status as a Divergent meant that she went on some sort of science-fiction, action adventure, saving the city, rallying rebels, doing, you know, stuff, not just hang around for yonks in the wings doing Dauntless training, and jumping on trains. And then jumping off trains. And then jumping on some more trains, to make sure we’d got the picture. Then going on zipwires, to make a change. *Insert four page monologue on the awesomeness of the Dauntless zipwire*. Yes, Tris, I know zipwires are fun. So please can you now go do something a little bit less pointless?!

Occaisionally, I was thrown tantalising glimpses of plot. The Erudite seemed to be concocting some Plan of Evil against Abnegation. Tris hears a mysterious voice in the corridor at night. She begins to be able to control simulations. I leapt on these – because they made it look like the story was actually going to get going. But it never did! Instead they went through yet more simulations, yet more rankings, and yet more incidents of bitchiness/murderousness between initiates/meaningful arm brushings with Four.

Oh yes, she spent the entire time hitting on Four in a big way. I have a feeling that the major plot hook throughout this point was their, ahem, how shall I put it, ‘budding romance’. *Snorts* It’s cruel to laugh, I know, but I couldn’t take it seriously at all. It didn’t engage me in the slightest – and I bet that’s the thing that was missing for me that wasn’t for readers that enjoyed this book. The main reasons I didn’t like the romance were that:

A) it was too formulaic and angsty-teenager  (not that I was expecting any different).

B) though I quite liked Tris’s badassery, I didn’t give a monkey’s uncle about Four.

Why not? you cry. Didn’t you just think he was so brooding and conflicted and dreamy and totally Mr Darcy-like?

My point exactly. In my brain, the word ‘Mr Darcy’ only gets to be associated with ‘engaging, attractive hero’ when the only other alternative is Edward Cullen.

As a reader, I have to be able to like my protagonists as actual people, before I can like them as characters. (My favourite characters were actually Christina and Will.) Not only did Four come across as a not particularly nice person, but we were barely given anything to work with. All he did was stand around, look hot, and brood. Big deal! I’ve seen that squillions of times before, everytime I pick up a YA novel written by a straight woman! If he’d actually said more than about four sentences in the book, maybe I would have been able to get more of a sense of who he was, and what his feelings were, and actually form some emotional connection with him. The chances of me just liking heroes because they are darkly attractive are absolutely zilch, and have been since I was fourteen. I like to think I’m a little bit more of a mature reader than that.

He remained utterly 2D, and impossible to relate too, until much further on in the book, when we find out a lot more about who he is, and, finally, his godamn actual name. Yes, shallow it may be, but the fact that I had to think of this bloke as just having the name ‘Four’ basically made him seem even more like a formulaic robot who’s only present to be a love interest, and not to be a character in their own right, in my mind. After we actually learn he’s really called ‘Tobias’, and we actually get to see inside his shell, I began to grow to like him as a character. Shame that that didn’t happen until after he and Tris had done the whole ‘Does he like me too’ shebang and actually got together.

I also found it slightly uncomfortable that some characters were bringing up the age difference between Tris and Four, like it was, I don’t know, dodgy or something. 16 and 18? Both almost entirely legal and only two years apart? Since when is that inappropriate? The fact that it was brought up, however, almost gave their relationship a slight air of innappropriacy, and believe me that is the last thing a pairing in a book needs, or every time I see them, I feel ill, like I’m witnessing something wrong. (Hideous memories of Rose and her trainer in the ‘Vampire Academy’ novels…*shudders*)

Then, all of a sudden, about 100 pages from the end…a story appeared! The fact that Tris was a Divergent actually became relevant! The tiny references to what may have been an Erudite Plan of Evil actually started to become a Plan of Evil and Fruitation! Many maleFACTIONS (I did it again!) were commited by the increasingly slimy Eric, and, horribly, by other unexpected characters as well! No longer was it just loads of kids pointlessly running around in Dauntless, there was actually a plot arc that involved the entire city!

And you know what, it actually got pretty exciting.

After that, the end of the book passed quickly, and I really enjoyed it. The problem was, that it wasn’t anywhere near exciting, brilliant or well-written enough in those last few chapters to make it worth slogging through all of the rest, which quite frankly, was very poor.

Now, my genius smarts *ahem Google* tell me that this book is set in Chicago, right? That was actually a strength of the novel – the descriptions of real places gave it a grounding in reality which I’m sure will has fans who live in the Windy City extra excited. For readers who don’t know the first thing about Chicago (us poor long suffering Brits), might not have picked up on it, however, and might have been slightly weirded out by the descriptions of weird landmarks…such as…statues of…lima beans. I bet they were thinking ‘Of all the weird-ass things the author could come up with, statues shaped like giant beans?!’ Fear not, readers, I’m assuming that these statues actually exist. Either that, or Veronica Roth has a really hyperactive imagination. I have to say, however, she did occasionally rely on basic description of existing buildings rather than using imagery to build up a picture of the world from scratch in the reader’s mind.

Another pernickity complaint: Roth really didn’t seem to know her weapons. In her defense, this is a problem that occurs in most action books by female authors – (with the exception, to my great surprise, of Melissa Marr, in her upcoming novel Carnival of Souls. Yes, I got my hands on that one aswell.) I’m not expecting authors to spew out Glocks and Hecklers&Kochs every time their characters pick up a weapon, but it would be really, really nice if they could make the tiniest distinctions between rifles, pistols, submachine guns, etc. Otherwise, your fight scenes read just about as convincingly as ‘I picked up the longish metal thing with the handle on the end and the sharp edges, only I don’t really know what it is called…and cut the butter with it.’

At some points I really wondered if Roth even knew what she meant herself – she was flinging the word ‘gun’ around like crazy in situations where it was clearly referring to different types of weapons. ‘I lifted the gun in my hand and shot at the target,’ from the general description around this point, I assumed they were using pistols. ‘I picked up the gun and slung the strap over my back.’ But what IS it?! Maybe it’s still a pistol, on a body strap.But it could just as easily be a larger semi-automatic. Or a flipping massive AK. On the other hand, it could be one of those plastic things that shoot flags out the end, how the heck am I supposed to tell? Even just the word ‘big’ or ‘small’ could make it sound vaguely more realistic, vaguely more professional, and vaguely more like the author herself and let alone the characters in the novel have a clue what they’re actually doing.

We’re not given any specific detail, and while I appreciate that your average female reader really wouldn’t give a crap about this sort of thing, it really grates with me when authors haven’t researched the technology in their novel. If you don’t paint a picture of exactly what you’re trying to right about, the first reader that comes along who knows slightly more about the subject than you do will blow your entire story right out of the water.

After soundly bashing that book till the end of time, I’m now going to reveal to you that, to my great surprise, I’m currently actually really enjoying Insurgent. Which bodes well for those of you that actually liked the first one. Stick around for my upcoming review of that.

Laters, alligators. 🙂

It’s Return of the Dragon, only without Bruce Lee – a Review of the Wheel of Time: Book One

This book’s title (which would be stupidly long on the already too long post heading) is technically The Eye of the World: The Wheel of Time, Book One, by Robert Jordan. Phew! That was a bit of a mouthful!

The title of this post is in fact a terrible joke, which will hopefully make sense to people familiar with the book…

I was mildly disappointed that this first book doesn’t have a cover by the incredible Dan Dos Santos, because I know the third one does. However, we all know that you should never judge a book by its cover – and it’s a good job I didn’t, because the cover was distinctly boring, and clearly aimed at people who were already aware enough of the series that they’d pick it up anyway.

I started it with a vague idea that The Wheel of Time is one of the most major, epic sequences in the genre of, well, epic fantasy, along with the Belgariad … and LOTR, obviously. And it was truly epic, in every sense of the world. Not only was it so epically long it took me about a month to read it *cringes* but it’s also only the first of about fourteen! The last will be released next year, penned by Brandon Sanderson. (And my little brother, who started just before me, is already on book 7…) It’s also definately epic fantasy, and on a massive scale – the world is fantastically, minutely detailed, and filled with squillions of characters which spring off the page and slap you in the face/run you through/give you a lift on their horse and cart, which is utterly fabulous. It’s also epic in that it was…well…awesome.

In short, it picks up on most of the major (and practically unavoidable) genre cliches (farm boy with a destiny, suspiciously Ork-like monsters, lots of horseback riding through mountain passes, ancient battles between light and dark) and uses them with great skill to make a thoroughly brilliant story. You probably can tell this by the fact that it’s sold millions of copies world wide.

Rand al,Thor is just your average teenage sheepherder (apart from the fact that he never knew his mother, his dad owns a weird sword, and he doesn’t look like the other people in his village, of course, hmm, I wonder who his parents are *sarcasm*) until the day when a peddlar, a gleeman, two mysterious strangers, a load of hairy Trolloc monsters and the King of the Nazgul – sorry, I mean, a Fade, rock up in his village. Rand, his friends the michievous Matt and kind-hearted Perrin, his not-quite girlfriend Egwene, the gleeman, and the village Wisdom (the fantastically argumentative young woman Nynaeve) are whisked off on an incredible adventure with the two strangers. They are, obviously, a lot more than they seem – Moraine is a powerful Aes Sedai (magician) and Lan is her incredibly badass Warder (body guard). At first they are simply fleeing for their lives, but then they begin to realise that each of them has a far greater part to play in the great tapestry of life than they imagined…

The story was very absorbing, and I absolutely loved all of the main characters, which made a nice change. Rand was a great, likeable hero – young enough to be slightly naive and accesible, but also strong. Nynaeve would have to be my favourite, simply because of smart and brave she was, and how indignantly angry she was the whole time. All of the characters develop through the book (which is always something you want to see) and the hesitant, budding romance between Rand and Egwene was believable, and funny to read.

Moments of this book were genuinly scary, and gave me shivers. The two most powerful scenes for me were the flight across the open plains while trying to avoid the crows, and the terrifying journey through the ancient midnight black Ways…where the hungry wind howls in the distance. At that point, I was actually scared, and turning pages like a maniac.

It was tied up in a ‘This is Only the Beginning’ sort of way, but also satisfying in itself so that I’m happy to leave this series for the moment, and pick it up again when I have a bit more time.

If there is one thing I could nit-pick about this, it’s that it was possibly excessively long. At times the story, while engrossing, did seem to flag slightly, which meant that it was a slightly heavy read, rather than a constantly exciting one – but that’s how it was supposed to be, and it was more rewarding that way. I also struggled to take Shai’tan seriously at some points, when even though he was supposed to be the Major Evil of All Evils, all he could do was appear in dreams and yell at people – the Fades and Trollocs also seemed to be distinctly useless. This however didn’t detract from the story in the slightest.

All in all, I’d definately recommend this to anyone who’s into epic fantasy, or fantasy in general.

Not for those with haemophobia – a Review of Will Hill’s Department 19

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for ages, and I have to say, I was slightly disappointed. (I did however get my hands on a signed copy, so at least I felt smug while reading it.) While it was quite enjoyable, it wasn’t intelligent, dark or gritty like I hoped it was going to be. I think this is because I was conned by the rather awesome and violent looking cover into thinking that it was going to be aimed at a higher age group than it actually was – 14 year old boys.

Having said that, the book still contained more blood than I’ve ever read in any piece of literature in my life. And I’ve read a lot of books with blood in, trust me. This was because the vampires in the story, when staked, explode. There was not a single character by the end of the book that wasn’t utterly dripping in the stuff, blood, guts, you name it, and that was slightly off putting. In fact I’d go as far to say that endless descriptions of the innards of the undead flying all over the place intefered slightly with the plot. Parts of the book were incredibly gory and I found this didn’t really fit with the relatively simple, unexciting story line, and younger age market.

You may be thinking, you’re a seventeen year old girl! Of course you didn’t enjoy a book for young teenage boys. You’d be wrong however, because books for 14 year old boys are generally what I love best. Department 19, unfortunately, doesn’t have any of the wit, engaging characters or snappy story lines of prominent books in the same genre, most notably the Skulduggery Pleasant series, though it is slightly better written.

I found that there were three main problems with the book.

The first was the clashing elements in the story. Will Hill’s fantastic plot idea was: what if Van Helsing, John Harker and the gang had discovered, on their return from Transylvania, that the spread of vampirism had not been halted with the death of Dracula? What if…they’d set up a government department to continue dealing with the threat? Sadly, I felt Hill couldn’t quite fuse together the idea of a high-tech, modern, agency, and all the Alex Rider-esque fanboy trappings that come with it, with the ancient, supernatural threat they were fighting. It jarred very badly for me and felt anachronistic.

For this reason the parts of the book which read the most convincingly were the bits set in the past, from Van Helsing’s perspective. The vampires were too old school– especially their ability to fly. Okay, I get that with vampires you have to suspend disbelief anyway, but the idea they could fly was just a step too far. It made it vaguely ridiculous. What’s more, it opened up loads of plot holes – why are these vampires so easy to kill (and believe me, they are, they explode all over the place) if really they should just be able to zoom off into the sky?

Secondly, the plot itself was very haphazard. I found it difficult to believe that the director of Department 19 would just let a kid run off with a group of operators to go on a suicidal mission to save his mum. I also couldn’t believe that Alexandru, the vampire of extreme evilness and major baddie, would be so interested in some puny kid that he’d waste an entire novel running around with his mother, and killing people to threaten him, whether or not his father killed his undead wife.

Furthermore, apart from the overriding ‘Save kidnapped mother’ plot arc, most of the events in the book seemed to be totally random. They didn’t fit together sequentially; Jamie and his crew were just flying around, then coming back to base, then changing their minds, then doing something else utterly random. Intersperse this with flashbacks to ye olde times of Van Helsing and a set piece which was clearly an excuse to have a New York 20s ball. Bits and pieces of interesting story would pop up, before being tied up without having a chance to develop – such as the visit to Valhalla. There were also moments so clichéd, it was painful; most notably Jamie’s unnaturally successful simulator performance after only 24 hours training, and a scene at the end where a character grapples with a werewolf on a cliff edge…only to fall over the side, and vanish. Cue slow motion, ‘Noooooo Cedric!’ and Wilhelm scream.

Finally, there were some problems with the characters. This wasn’t entirely their fault – the sly, seductive Larissa and stoic yet conflicted Frankenstein were really cool. They were however, lumbered with the ridiculous name ‘Larissa’ (seriously? How more female vampire seductress can you get?) and the fact that Frankenstein was, well, Frankenstein (or at least his monster).

Looking beyond these surface flaws, these two characters held up well. Until about two thirds of the way through the book, when one of them had all interesting traits of their personality utterly removed. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean – and I wasn’t impressed. Jamie was a generic hero, though he seemed to have some serious anger problems. I don’t know if this was to make him more interesting, but I just found it worrying. Then there was the line up of 2D stock secondary characters, including most of the Blacklight operatives. Despite this, the author’s real strength came to light in scenes where he wrote the action from the perspective of minor characters, (most of whom ended up dead) a trick also employed by Mr Horowitz.

A final two pernickety comments – I also picked up on what I thought was a few too many uses of the word ‘agreeably’. And did anyone else find it frustrating quite how many people had the surnames Harker, Morris, Carpenter and so on? It made them all incredibly hard to keep track of.

Having complained about it at great length, once I realised there was no way I could possibly take it seriously, and stopped trying to, I enjoyed it. There were moments where I chuckled; unfortunately, not all of this humour was intentional. Though I appreciated the smug cameos from famous contemporary authors in the flashback scenes of the novel, I doubt these would have been picked up on by younger readers.

If you’re looking for a bloody action story that really wishes it was a movie, with lots of vampires, weapons , hideous deaths, and don’t really mind if it’s unintelligent and doesn’t hang together amazingly well –then I would recommend it. Just please don’t read it if you have a phobia of blood.