Saturday, 16 March 2013

Review: Department 19: Battle Lines by Will Hill


Secret government unit Department 19 is recovering from evil vampire Valeri Rusmanov's deadly attack on their base. The Department’s newest member, teenage operator Jamie Carpenter, is tasked with training up a new squad, as his friends and colleagues desperately search for ways to try to stop what is coming.

The timing couldn't be worse for a coordinated, global attack on a number of maximum security prisons and hospitals—with the already-dangerous inmates now on the loose and turned into vampires. One of the escapees has a deep connection to one of the darkest moments in the history of Department 19 and embarks on a quest that threatens to expose the existence of vampires to the public. And with each day that passes, the regenerated Dracula gets stronger, bringing Zero Hour closer.

In this third instalment of the epic Department 19 series, Will Hill delivers higher—and sharper—stakes than ever before.


If you're a long time reader of The Book Zone then you will know just how big a fan I am of Will Hill's Department 19 books. The first book was my Book of the Year back in 2011, and the sequel, The Rising, would most likely have been the winner in 2012, if I hadn't been a little flexible with the rules (seriously, it's no fun when the same person wins year after year - just ask Christiano Ronaldo). If I now say that the third book in the series, Battle Lines, is my favourite to date then you may feel you don't need to read any further as you will know that it must be a damn fine book indeed. 

If you have not yet read the first two books in the series then shame on you. However, you may not want to read on as although there will not be any spoilers for Battle Lines in this review, I really cannot promise the same for The Rising, so please navigate away now

Battle Lines opens with the members of Department 19 still recovering from the catastrophic, bloody vampire attack on The Loop that took place at the end of The Rising. Cal Holmwood has assumed the position of Interim Director following the abduction of Henry Seward by Valeri Rusmanov, and one of his first commands was to disband G-17, Jamie Carpenter's Operational Squad that also included Larissa Kinley and Kate Randall. His reasons, although difficult for Jamie to fully accept, make perfect tactical and operational sense: by splitting the trio up their experience can be used to greater effect. Thus, Jamie is put in charge of a new squad of trainee Operatives, Kate has been transferred to the Internal Security Assessment Team (ISAT) to work with Paul Turner in rooting out any traitor that might still be hiding amongst their ranks, and Larissa is on secondment with NS9, Department 19's sister organisation in the US. Meanwhile, their other friend, Matt Browning, is working all hours in the depths of The Loop on Project Lazarus, the department's quest to find a cure to the vampire plague.

However, before all this is revealed we are treated to an vicious opening chapter that grabs you by the throat and tears out your carotid artery. It is an opening chapter that I found all the more chilling because of where I live. It starts with a siren waking up the residents of the village of Crowthorne. For people who live in the Crowthorne area, which includes Bracknell where I live, the sound of the siren is something residents do not want to hear outside of its weekly Monday morning 10 am test. It is a siren that I can hear if I am outside at this time whilst at school almost ten miles away. It is the siren that signals an escape from Broadmoor, the high-security psychiatric hospital that through the years has housed the likes of Ian Brady, Peter Sutcliffe, Ronald Kray and Charles Bronson. However, in Will Hill's world the inmates aren't just escaping - they have been given a helping hand by Valeri's minions that has given them powers that have previously only been seen in the oldest of vampires.

I'm now conscious that I have written two lengthy paragraphs and not got beyond the first couple of chapters, and there is so much that happens in this book. As a result of Jamie's original team being split up, the action moves from England to the US, and back again in rapid fire, with every one of the main characters being given the wordage to grow as characters in their own right. Jamie has to deal with taking inexperienced Operatives into the field against merciless foes, Kate has to cope with being seen as some kind of pariah as she carries out her internal affairs duties in interrogating her fellow D19 members, and Larissa has to cope with being thousands of miles away from Jamie, whilst having the time of her life in a set-up that offers her more freedom and less prejudice, but also having to fend off the advances of one of hew new friends. We are also occasionally treated to an insight into the machinations of Dracula and Valeri as they inflict horrible tortures on their captive, Seward.

I'm not going to prattle on for much longer, although there were two scenes I want to mention, however obliquely, that had me grinning from ear to ear. The first involves Larissa, when she and her team are tasked with an operation that brings them into contact with a Mexican drug cartel. If you have read the D19 books you will know what Larissa is capable of - imagine her let loose in such a situation and I imagine your grin of anticipation will match my own. The second scene I'd like to mention appears on page 570. I was reading it during one of the Y7 reading lessons I take at school, and I literally made my group jump as I shouted "Yes!" out loud, and only just managed to hold back from pumping the air with my fist!

Battle Lines hit me on an emotional and psychological level more than its predecessors, and is all the better for it. One scene in particular, when Larissa is in a Vegas night club, is thought provoking for both her and the reader, and later conversations suggest that what on the surface seems like little more than a brief encounter of little consequence may prove to have significant ramifications for Department 19 in the future. Readers also have to cope with the heartache that Matt and Kate's fathers continue to face, believing that their children are dead, and the steps they decide to take that could bring down the whole Department. 

On top of all this, Dracula is still very much on the fringe of the main story (exciting times ahead!) and I haven't even mentioned Jamie's dad or a rather bitter, and now extremely violent and revenge hungry, character from the Department's past. Prepare to be blown away!

Is there no limit to Will Hill's talent as a writer? He continues to up the ante with every new release (as well as upping the litres of blood that flow throughout), and every book so far as beet better than the one that preceded it. With two more books due in the Department 19 series I fully expect him to be wowing his established fans for another two years, whilst also attracting legions more into the fold.

Battle Lines is scheduled to be published on 28 March, and my thanks go to the lovely people at HarperCollins for giving me the chance to read it some time before release date through Netgalley.


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