Okay, warning: I picked this up at the store, read the back of it and muttered “Oh God, someone wrote a YA version of Monster Hunter International…” I bought the book anyways because hey, I haven’t read any good YA lately, and I doubted that there were no similarities other than my initial gut reaction.
To kick off Department 19, Jamie Carpenter watches as his father is gunned down my what appears to be a crack government secret service force as something decidedly weird is going on outside his home. Shadows moving, his father being murdered… makes an impression on a boy. Two years pass, and Jamie is a maladjusted youth at a school in Nottingham, England, trying to keep his head down and the rumors even lower (the rumors that his father was a terrorist). The day after a fight at school, Jamie meets a young girl named Larissa who is sneaking up on him to scare him. However, Larissa is more than she appears and mesmerizes him with her red eyes… and promptly leaves him lying beneath a tree without explanation or reason. Jamie wakes up, rushes home and discovers that his mother has been kidnapped by a man named Alexander. A freakishly large man rescues Jamie from Alexander, introduces himself as Frankenstein and tells him that he is there to help. Jamie, quite understandably, passes out.
Meanwhile, a boy nearby by the name of Matt Browning is surprised when he sees a young girl fall from the sky. He rushes outside and see his dad, an abusive jerk, standing there staring. Government agents quickly arrive and secure the scene. Matt accidently gets too close and the young girl bites him. And his story more-or-less ends for the book.
Why waste the pages… oh, never mind. Plot device for inevitable sequel. My bad. Let’s keep reading.
Jamie is taken by Frankenstein to a secret government base somewhere in England, where a secret organization names Department 19 resides. It becomes evident that Frankenstein broke all sorts of rules in bringing Jamie to a top-secret government facility but, instead of locking the boy up somewhere safe, they go ahead and let him wander around, unescorted, in apparently the most secure and secret base known to man.
Okay, my apologies about the continuous interruption in the review. Some things in this book continuously twigged my “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” senses, especially the government secrecy ones. It may be possible to do such a thing in England, I don’t know and I’m trying not to judge. Here in the States, if it’s a secret government project, everyone already knows about it (though details may vary). Slapping “Classified” on it with nothing else only piques American curiosity. We’re bad like that.
Ahem. Back to the story…
Well, half the time is Jamie prepping to join Department 19 so that he can go and rescue his mother, the other part is Jamie being an emo teen who has a crush on a vampire girl (oh God no!), which, given that this is a YA story, makes sense in a way. Jamie discovers that Larissa is being held by Department 19 in a secure area with other vampires as well (yes, Larissa with the red eyes is a vampire). Jamie more or less forces Dept 19 to feed her blood so that she may stay alive, then again forces Frankenstein to take her with them to a rendezvous point with other vampires. Jamie is desperate to get his mother back, though that seems to take a back seat when he gets around Larissa (again, a YA novel… I understand).
My initial thoughts were incorrect: this book is not like MHI, for which I’m glad. Department Nineteen is a pretty fast-paced action novel, with just enough elements of a love story to… well, make it interesting for teens. The plot is decent is a little rushed, and the build up of Matt Browning absolutely confused me. I kept waiting for the boy to wake up and be able to help Jamie in his quest to save his mother. Larissa also makes little sense, but then again my idea of vampires are pretty much along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a soulless entity who now views humans as food and nothing more.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it was vastly entertaining. The author’s gun knowledge was impressive, considering the society he lives in, and his action sequences were very tightly woven. He could have spent more time on action scenes and less on story and I wouldn’t have minded one bit. Play to your strengths, I’ve always been told, and action sequences are Will Hill’s strength. The intermittent scenes showing London in 1892 were very well done, and probably one of the best parts of the book. The characterization of Jamie was a bit overdone, but again, I’ll pass that one off as a YA teen character instead of a “normal” one.
This book is a solid B. Good, not outstanding, but something that teenaged boys looking for a non-sparkly story about vampires will want to read. Buy it for the teens in your life.
–Reviewed by Jason