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gore-soaked debut novel imagines that everything Bram Stoker wrote is true. Though Dracula is now dead (or is he?), his ruthless, original, Transylvanian associates still stalk the earth, preying on the innocent and gathering an increasing number of deadly acolytes. Unbeknownst to the ordinary people of the world, Department 19 has been waging a fierce, high-tech, global war against this deadly force of the undead for over one hundred years, led by the descendants of the original vampire hunters. 16-year-old Jamie Carpenter has no idea that he is one of them, until his father – secretly a Department 19 operative – is shot dead, and his mother kidnapped by the most merciless vampire of all. Soon he has joined the struggle, and is fighting for both their lives.

There’s a clever concept at work here, and for the most part this gripping novel is extremely well executed. It’s the quantity and nature of the executions themselves that leaves me a little squeamish. It’s not that I mind blood, and I know that many teenage novels hook readers with more than a passing nod to the fast-paced world of computer games. But the sheer quantity of ripped-out throats, exposed entrails, exploding vampires and fountains of gore paraded in scene

after scene deadened the effect of the terror for me in a way that detracted from the otherwise high quality of this novel. Instead of seeking to replicate the level of on-screen carnage, I personally prefer to see writers working on the imagination with a subtlety that creators of computer games cannot employ. Otherwise, what next? Black Ops meets Nosferatu?


Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil


Derek Landy, HarperCollins, 604 pages, 978 0 00 732601 3, £6.99

This substantial volume is the fifth book in a continuing saga and presents the problems one might expect when taken in isolation: characters and story are already well established, there are inevitable references to earlier incidents, and we have yet to see the story’s conclusion. There is the added complication that many of the huge cast of characters exist in an unsettling state of duality: the main protagonist, a 15-year-old sorcerer called Valkyrie Cain, is also Stephanie Edgley, who spends a gloomy Christmas at her parents’ house in a Dublin suburb. But Valkyrie is also destined to become Darquesse, the sorcerer who will

destroy the world. A different type of duality is demonstrated by her unusual companion, Skulduggery Pleasant, the ‘Skeleton Detective’, who can produce various faces to hide his skull by tapping symbols etched into his collar-bones.

At one point, Valkyrie expresses her surprise at ‘just how close the weird and the wonderful, and the fierce and the frightening, lived to the rest of the non-magical, mortal, world’. Ireland is a ‘Cradle of Magic’ governed by sorcerers through the ‘Sanctuary’, which has recently moved from Dublin to Roarhaven - ‘a town of prejudice and bigotry, of bitter sorcerers and magical malcontents’. The worry is that if the ostensibly friendly Americans perceive there to be a crisis in Ireland, they will ‘swoop in’ – and stay. Damage also comes at a more personal level: in an attempt to prevent herself from changing into Darquesse, Valkyrie has to undergo a gruesome and vividly described dissection of which she is fully aware, leaving afterwards with her heart and spleen in a bag. In addition, there are repeated and detailed accounts of fights complete with grunts, screams, curses and shouts as heads are kicked, ribs crushed and skulls split, while brains go flying. Often, it’s the girls doing the damage

(‘she crushed the skull of a handsome man and tossed him away from her’). Meanwhile, dark forces try to ensure that Darquesse does make an appearance.

The persistent grimness of everyday life and the decay and mistrust of the magical world are leavened by Landy’s dry and ironic wit which laconically draws attention to the banality of the sorcerers’ shabby lives. ‘Nobody likes zombies,’ we are told, and shortly afterwards we meet a pair ‘living out of a refrigerated truck (with) two flat tyres’. The rapid succession of incidents ensures that the book is consistently entertaining, provided the new reader is not over-concerned with identifying all the characters. Clearly, however, many readers are intimately aware of who they are - the book ends with a separate short story written for a reader who created a new character to appear in the novel. The violence and gruesome detail make this book more suitable for those aged over 14, but the evident popularity of the series will probably be the main factor in determining who reads it.


Bryony Pearce Every atrocity

Will come back to haunt her fAvailable

Every act of vengeance Every War

rom all good bookshops

Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 31

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