What sixteen year old boy wouldn’t love finding out that his family legacy can be traced back to the most famous group of vampire hunters ever? Jamie Carpenter, for one.
When he finds out that his great grandfather, along with Van Helsing, founded a secret government agency to rid the world of vampires, his rush of adrenaline at entering Department 19 is short-lived. He is met with open hostility by most of the operatives (with the exception of Frankenstein’s Monster) because, as it turns out, his family legacy isn’t so illustrious. His own father was a traitor. And he’s the reason that Jamie’s mother has been abducted by the most powerful vampire alive.
Jamie is determined to rescue her at any cost. He knows time is of the essence, so he agrees to endure a grueling training blitz, a crash course in the latest vamp killing weaponry, and even makes a dangerous deal with a beautiful vampire imprisoned by the Department in exchange for information about his mother’s whereabouts.
Through alternating chapters, we jump to 1892 London immediately following the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with the famous Van Helsing, Harker, Holmwood and the formation of Department 19. History eventually catches up with the present and, of course, hidden motives are revealed, loyalties are brought into question, and new villains emerge.
Department 19 by Will Hill (you can read the first five chapters here) initially reminded me a lot of the Harry Potter series, except instead of magic and Hogwarts, there are vampires and secret government agencies. I say initially because that flattering comparison didn’t hold up throughout the rest of the book.
“Have you ever read Dracula?…It’s not a story; it’s a history lesson.” That’s the premise behind Department 19. Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley wrote fact not fiction. Van Helsing, Harker, Holmwood, even Dracula himself were all real. The secret branch of the British government known as “Department Nineteen: The Reason You’re Alive” is the country’s last defense against the progeny of Dracula. And Jamie is the latest recruit.
Without even picking up Department 19, it made a big promise just with it’s cover. Weapons and lots of them. High tech methods of dispatching the undead with ruthless efficiency. And it delivered. Everything pictured on the cover is in the book and then some. There are pages and pages devoted to describing these weapons, how they function, how they kill. My favorite was the T-18 pneumatic launcher, aka the T-Bone. (Get it? Stake/steak?) Strap it on, fire the metal stake, and watch the vampire explode in a mess of blood and gore. The T-Bone even retracts back automatically, ready to be fired again. Very cool.
As interesting as Van Helsing and crew were, the history jumps were more annoying than anything else, especially once we moved past the first generation of great hunters. While it was fun each time a famous name popped up, I think this book would have fared better if the character of Jamie had been developed more. Perhaps if there had been fewer chapters from alternate POVs, he could have been. As it was, Jamie came across more like a prop than anything else. He was a hothead who lost his temper and mouthed off a lot. That’s basically the impression he left me with. He started out with a lot of potential, again reminding me very much of Harry Potter, especially in the fifth book, but after he arrived at the Department he wasn’t given nearly the amount of attention needed to engrain him to the reader. He basically went into auto pilot along with the story.
There was also a romance of a sort in this book that was unnecessarily tacked on towards the end. Almost like an afterthought to try and attract more readers. After establishing Jamie as completely single-minded in his goal to mount a rescue operation for his mother, it made little sense to me that he would even notice the vampire babe, who was determinedly in sexy mode 24/7, let alone take time to actually do anything about it.
Department 19 had such a strong opening that the last half of the book becomes almost unforgiveable by comparison. It had all the potential to be a compelling, character driven adventure while plucking both real and fictional characters from other famous works and building on the vampire myth created in Stoker’s Dracula. Instead, it drifted into supernatural thriller territory by adding more and more POVs and surprise twists that were anything but. Cool weapons and plenty of bloodshed can’t make up for that. Other reviews are much more glowing than mine, so the sequel set up at the end will surly find an audience. It just won’t be me.
Abigail Johnson manages the Tor.com Urban Fantasy Facebook and Twitter accounts and spends way too much time thinking about vampires, werewolves, zombies and all things paranormal in books, movies, TV and video games.