Thursday, 5 June 2014

Review: Department 19: Zero Hour by Will Hill

Department 19 still stands against the darkness. But for how much longer? Book four in the explosive series from bestselling author, Will Hill.

As Dracula continues his rise, the men and women of Department 19 wait for good news. But hope is in short supply – the country is beginning to fall apart as the public comes to terms with the horror in their midst; a cure for vampirism remains years, even decades away; and their supposed ally Valentin Rusmanov has not been heard from in weeks.

Jamie Carpenter and his friends are working hard to keep the forces of evil at bay, but it is beginning to feel like a lost cause…Until familiar faces from the past bring news that could turn the tide. News that takes Matt Browning to America on a desperate search for a miracle, and sends Jamie and Larissa Kinley into the darkest corners of eastern Europe, where something old and impossibly powerful waits for them.

Something that could stop Dracula for good.

But the clock is ticking.

Night is falling. And Zero Hour is almost here…

When I read the first Department 19 book, I stated that it was the best action horror that I had ever read. And then Will Hill raised the goddamn bar with his second book, The Rising. Then, like the great Sergey Bubka, he teased us by raising that bar even more for Battle Lines, and as spectators we were left wondering whether Will Hill had it in him to continue doing so. All we could do was watch and wait. And now Zero Hour is upon us, and yes, that bar has gone up again and Hill has sailed over it.

Personally, I never doubted him for a moment (honest). Having spoken to Will about Zero Hour I know how much of himself he has put into this book, and that parts of it very nearly broke him. So much so that back on 15th January, Will wrote a post on his blog to apologise that Zero Hour would not be released at the end of March, but that fans would have to wait for another two months before they could get their hands on a copy. I'll admit, that a very small, selfish part of me was a little bit disappointed that I would have to wait, but the rest of me soon quietened that whining voice. After all, if the book was delayed so that Will could release a final version that he was happy with, then surely that could only be a good thing for the rest of us! 

Before I continue, a word of warning. This is the fourth book in the series and as such this review will contain spoilers for previous books, so if you haven't read them then please do not read on. Secondly, I'm not sure how much I will be saying in this review anyway - with every new book that comes along in this series it feels more and more wrong to mention plot points in a review. Seriously - if you want to know what happens then just read the book.

As a quick reminder, the end of Battle Lines left us with 46 days till Zero Hour. Things had not gone well for Jamie and his team (understatement). Jamie's friends had also gone through hell, whether physically or emotionally, both in the UK and, for Larissa, over in the US. And then there is the matter of Julian Carpenter - alive and well, and back on British soil, but as a high security prisoner whose identity is known only to one or two people.

Zero Hour picks up the story with seven days till Zero Hour, and things are beginning to look very desperate indeed for the members of Department 19. The breakthrough they have been hoping and praying for just hasn't materialised. Kate and the Intelligence Division have data that predicts nothing but disaster of apocalyptic proportions for the world's non-vampire population. Larissa is wracked with guilt as she strongly suspects that Julian Carpenter is alive, but she can't find a way of telling Jamie. Jamie himself is still reeling from the events of Battle Lines, and also struggling with the growing realisation that his girlfriend is one of the most powerful vampires in the world, so where does that leave him, a mere mortal human? Matt Browning has been working night and day, desperately trying to find a cure for vampirism, but so far his efforts have all been in vain. And then there is Valentin Rusmanov, now allied with Department 19, but long absent, off on his own search for an answer to their prayers. 

So, all things considered, things aren't looking good for the human race.

And then things get worse. 

On finishing Zero Hour I sent Will Hill a message, congratulating him on what I thought to be his best book yet, and I told him it was his Empire Strikes Back. There are two reasons for this: the first is that the first two three quarters of the book are a gradual build up to the climactic final quarter (more about that in a minute). The second was the feeling you get, as you turn the pages, that things just can't get any worse. And yet then they do. And again, you think, oh well, at least things can't get any worse. And then they do, again. And this continues again and again as the plot progresses, and all of the time you know that every crappy little thing that is thrown at the D19 team is only a precursor to everything hitting the fan when Dracula finally reaches full strength. There were times when I felt slightly sick with nerves reading this as I have become so invested in these characters over the past few years. Especially given what happened to Shaun Turner in The Rising: we already know that Will Hill has the balls to kill off key characters.

So how could things possibly get worse for the D19 team? Well, I've thought long and hard about what I should or shouldn't reveal, and I decided that I would expand on one key plot point only. Simply put, word gets out. We sort of guessed this would happen following the events of Battle Lines, but now we are talking worldwide media coverage, social media and YouTube, and all the grief that that brings with it: protests (by both vampires and humans); condemnation of the work of D19 by the press; accusations of ethnic cleansing. Not exactly what the team needs to keep them focused as they prepare to do battle with their greatest foe and the biggest ever threat to mankind. However, as far as things getting worse for the team, this is only one of them, and in some ways fairly minor considering some of the other big reveals that come in this book.

Just now I said I would mention more about the climactic final quarter of the book. However, before we reach that point I want to touch on three moments in the first three quarters that pretty much took my breath away. The first was a major fist-pump moment which happens just as the clock has ticked over to two days until Zero Hour. I'm not saying any more other than it sort of relates to my favourite character in the series and it's nice to see justice done. I reckon Will Hill took great delight in writing this particular scene. The other two key moments happened within twenty pages of each other and I actually uttered a word that I can't and won't repeat here when I read it and I felt as if I had been punched in the gut. And if that wasn't enough, twenty pages later I was left with more than a few tears in my eyes as Hill tore out my heart and crushed it. Will Hill has balls of steel and does not hold back in this book!

And then there is the climactic final portion. Seriously, if you have any energy left when you get to the chapter titled "The Calm Before" I suggest you put the book down, go outside and get a breath of fresh air. Perhaps treat yourself to a bar of chocolate and a can of red Coke (or whatever your beverage of choice happens to be) because hell, you are going to need it! The final part of this book is fast, furious, bloody, violent, and definitely takes no prisoners. It's a no-holds-barred climax that comes with one rule only: kill or be killed, and should come with a theme park style warning:

You also need to make sure that you have plenty of time to finish the book, as once you start reading this chapter you will find it impossible to put the book down until you have reached the final chapter, more than 100 pages later.

With the fifth and final book titled Darkest Night I have a feeling that things are probably going to get even worse before this series comes to an end.

Department 19: Zero Hour is published as a hardback in the UK on 5th June. However, you can already buy the first three quarters of the book as e-books, with the fourth quarter scheduled to be released on the same day as the physical edition. Head on over to Will Hill's blog to find out more details. Whilst you're at it I also strongly recommend that you download a free copy of the (long) short story, The Second Birth of Frankenstein. If you're a fan of the D19 character like I am then you will probably have a number of questions about his past, how he came to choose the name of a creator that he grew to hate, and how he ended up with D19. It's bloody brilliant and you can find out all you need to know about how to get your free copy by clicking here

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