Thursday, 1 March 2012

Review: Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill





After the terrifying attack on Lindisfarne at the end of the first book, Jamie, Larissa and Kate are recovering at Department 19 headquarters, waiting for news of Dracula’s stolen ashes.

They won’t be waiting for long.

Vampire forces are gathering. Old enemies are getting too close. And Dracula… is rising.

If there was one 2012 release that I was looking forward to reading more than any other this year it was Will Hill’s Department 19: The Rising. I do not think I have stopped shouting about how wonderful I thought the first book was – I have bought multiple copies over the past year for various godsons, relatives, etc and I have recommended it to all of my friends and work colleagues who have teenage sons. It goes without saying that it was also my Book Zone Book of the Year 2011. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that an early proof copy was heading my way just before Christmas – it would make the perfect in-flight reading material for my journey to Canada. Imagine also my utter despair when it had not arrived in time – everyone else seemed to have received theirs, but Bracknell must be in some kind of different time zone as far as post is concerned as this was yet another slow arriving parcel. However, my tweeted despair quickly turned to elation when the wonderful, generous, thoughtful Will Hill emailed me a pdf of The Rising so that I could read it on my Kindle. I joyfully proclaimed that I would read it in a single sitting during my many houred flight, and Will replied that he would be very surprised if I did, as it was 700+ pages long. Was that a gauntlet I heard being thrown down?

Come the following morning the plane took off, and as soon as I was allowed the Kindle was turned on. The next nine hours flew by, the inflight entertainment system (and my long suffering wife) completely ignored/forgotten about, as I was drawn back into the author’s world where nasty, blood gulping vampires exist, as does a government agency, the eponymous Department 19, established decades ago to counter the threat of these unread. And I ‘won’ the challenge – I clicked over onto the final page just five minutes before the light came on to tell us to turn off all electrical gadgets in preparation for the plane’s descent, at the end of what was possibly one of the most enjoyable flights I have ever made. If you thought Department 19 was amazing then fasten your seatbelts tight as the sequel is one truly fantastic ride.
 Will Hill has taken everything that was so great about the first book, and turned them up to 11!

Now first the bad news – I really cannot tell you very much about the plot except for the very basics. At the end of the first book we were left with a number of questions (and one massively huge jaw-dropping epilogue), and many of these questions are answered in one way or another in The Rising. There are also a number of key developments/revelations that, should I spoil them in any way in this review, HarperCollins and Will Hill might just string me up by my unmentionables and leave me to rot. One or two of these really key developments I had guessed before they were revealed (honest guv!), and one in particular had been niggling away at me ever since I read the first book. This is not to say that they are obvious though, Will Hill keeps his readers guessing all the w ay through this one.

If you haven’t read the first book then you might want to turn away now as I am about to mention THAT epilogue (in fact, if you haven’t read it then leave this review now, and go and buy it or get it from your local library this very minute). As I was saying, THAT epilogue. The Dracula thing that had all those jaws thudding across the land. Yes, in The Rising Dracula has returned, but before you get your hopes up, this story is less about Dracula and more about loads of other things, and it is all the better for this. It is about how Jamie is struggling to cope with the loss of his close friend Frankenstein and his mother being turned into a vampire. It is about Jamie and his growing relationship with fellow Department 19 operative (and vampire) Larissa. It is about Larissa, hating her fangs and vampire abilities and desperate to be seen as a normal person. It is about Kate Randall, the girl they rescued from Lindisfarne. It is about Matt Browning, now recovered physically from the severe injuries he suffered in the first book, but mentally feeling that there is a huge hole in his life. It is about the history behind Dracula becoming a vampire, and the subsequent turning of his faithful followers Valeri, Valentin and the since destroyed Alexandru, and how not even vampire brothers necessarily share the same goals.

Despite it having more action, more gore, and more horror than its predecessor, The Rising is very much about the characters, good and bad, and in my mind this makes it even better than the first book. I became so immersed in their various stories that my emotions during that flight were all over the place. At times my heart was racing, desperate to get to the outcome of an action scene, and then several chapters later I would feel tears almost pricking at my eyes. I went from excited to saddened to fearful to elated and then back again, running the whole gamut over and over again. There was one scene in particular, at the beginning of which I was genuinely afraid for the characters involved, and come the end of that climactic scene I challenge anyone not to be genuinely upset. Will Hill – you are a genius!

This book is a rare thing indeed - a sequel that is better than its brilliant predecessor. It almost wants me to go back to my reviews on Amazon and GoodReads and drop them down to four stars. But Department 19 was my favourite book of 2011 so I can't justify that, so I will just have to imagine there being a sixth star. There is so much more I want to say about it but can’t (I value my unmentionables to much). Yet again I already have a frontrunner for my book of the year – author’s please note, Will Hill has set the bar and in 2012 it may take an effort of Olympian proportions to beat it.