Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: Department 19 by Will Hill

Where I got it: Review Copy from Harper Collins Canada
Page Count: 352Pgs
Release Date: April 1st (in Canada) March 31st (elsewhere)

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…

There were three books in 2010 that knocked me out breathless. Only three, and I read all three after the midway point of the year.

Not even two months into 2011 and I’ve already had the first of this year to knock me out. Like flat out. Like I couldn't put the bloody thing down and I spent every single bit of free time I had I reading it voraciously.

You won’t have heard about this book yet, as it isn’t due for publication until the spring (late March/early April), but the wonderful people at Harper Collins Canada were kind enough to send me a review copy. I’d also like to nod to Amanda over at Floor To Ceiling Books for her vague and cryptic mention of it in December that made me go look it up.

New author Will Hill’s debut novel DEPARTMENT 19 is the first in a new Young Adult series. The synopsis (above) hooked me right away, and I knew this sounded like it was right up my alley.  Here is a book that concerns damn near everything I have an interest in: Clandestine Government agencies, historical mysteries, monsters, crazy weapons, clever plot twists, interesting characters, action, gruesome fights, most likely a fair amount of vampire blood and ash not to mention probably more than a few scares.

Will’s writing skills range across the board in this book (and for a new author I am supremely impressed with his talent, let alone that this is his first book!), but the first one that ought to stand out is the characters. First and foremost, protagonist Jamie Carpenter is exactly what every other angsty sixteen year-old in reality would be like. He gets upset at the adults around him at all the moments and in all the ways he should, shy and bashful when he should be and even lets his hormones run riot in him when they would. In that respect Jamie feels VERY realistic to the mind of a teen. I found myself reading him and the teenage me was agreeing with every outburst, goofy moment, and reaction he had. To me, that’s skill on Hill’s part. It doesn’t stop there though, as the rest of the cast are all perfectly voiced and represented. Larissa, Frankenstein, Admiral Seward, Thomas Morris, and Van Helsing to name only a few are all VERY well fleshed out and never feel boring. Each has their own portion of the narrative and each are quite as interesting as Jaime is. The vilains are nasty, like super nasty as they come. Dark, evil and scary. In fact, you know how really, truly scary villains laugh and scoff at the hero's attempts to do away with them, cause they KNOW they have the upper hand? Yeah, this book is filled with that type of villain. Cold, and remorseless killers.

A few other reviews have mentioned this and so I will too…Thank you Mr. Hill for giving us our monsters back. Thank you for making vampires properly scary again and not at all sparkly and emo. Make no mistake, this book will give you chills and it spares no expense on the action, blood and grime. There is a scene in which a girl is unknowingly turned into a vampire and as her body reacts when she awakes. It is described in such utterly simple detail that I thought to myself, what she is feeling must be like what an addict who needed a fix would feel. It is gut wrenching, horrible, and perfectly gives us back the vampire as a monster...and not a sparkly boy with messy hair and caramel eyes. There were a few moments like that in the book where my eyes widened at Hill’s deft hand. He brings to the page completely surreal events and plunks your brain right down inside them and says “this is what it would feel like to”... be in a room full of people, only to discover they are all vampires lusting for your blood, to see a real death for the first time, to feel well and truly scared, or to see historical myth cast into a light as a truth. It is a wonder to me that the prose, while simple, easy and flowing, is also beautifully detailed and each sentence feels crafted with the attention of a jeweler.

This book is not only a globe-trotter (it takes place in many locations across Britain, Europe and America), but it is also a history-trotter. There are chapters sprinkled throughout the book that jump into the past as we discover how Department 19 (or Blacklight as it is referred to) was founded, how Frankenstein first met the people from the organization, what exactly happened with Jaime’s father, and even what happened to the remains of a certain well-known Impaler from the Carpathian mountains. Hill handles these chapters with the hand of a seasoned historical author. They never feel jarring or misplaced and fit perfectly in with the modern narrative.

Department 19 itself is wonderful to behold, with its past, leadership, purpose, training, weapons and vehicles. It is a virtual cornucopia of awesome techie-toys that anyone would be happy to get to play with.  We also learn that vampires aren’t the only things that are going to go bump in this series, as it is mentioned early on that there are many other supernatural elements the world needs defense from and Blacklight plans to be there to fill that need. That’s a big bonus for me as I’d love to see Blacklight tackling other supernatural beasties and I predict they will.

I was literally RAPT from page one. The prologue is a quick hook that makes you go “What the hell is going on? I have to know!” This book is a stunning piece of work. The pace is electrifying, the action is well-executed, the characters are interesting and story within the books' pages are not to be missed. This book really does have it all going for it. Do you remember how eagerly you read books like the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games series and the like? Well this one can safely fall into that category and share the shelf next to them.

Will Hill has written a book that will appeal across the board to teens and adults alike. Not only that, I feel that Amanda was right in her review to say this book is going to be a phenomenon. It will be, and I feel rather privileged to have been allowed to get an early look at it. I am literally salivating for the second volume now, as this series is definitely going to be an exciting one and the long arcing story can only get better.  This opening salvo into the world Hill has created will only whet your appetite, I promise you!

A rocket-paced ride through blood-soaked history, mystery, secrecy, and heroics the likes of which you can’t imagine. Will Hill’s DEPARTMENT 19 is everything you’ve been looking for. A thrilling adventure on an epic scale and I can’t believe it’s only just begun! An absolute triumph!

Note to Will Hill: Is it wrong that I couldn’t read Abraham Van Helsing’s dialogue without hearing Anthony Hopkin’s voice? It totally worked for me though. Haha!


  1. Reading this review has me PUMPED! Pre-order here I come.

  2. This one sounds excellent! I'm adding it to my already over-long TBR list.



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