Friday, July 18, 2008

BOOKS: Vampirates, Demons of the Ocean - Justin Somper

Justin Somper hit on a great title for a series, Vampirates. How can it NOT be something worth reading? The first in the series, now some three books old, is Demons of the Ocean.

It's a Young Adult novel, aimed at early teens. It's set some five hundred years into the future, which seems a bit of a crutch for Somper, who writes it in mostly current dialect. He even includes references to the Heimlich maneuver and flapper dresses. Hard to do that if you set it five hundred years into the past. I'll give him a pass, since the story's not for me at my advanced age anyway.

It doesn't start off promisingly. Not all YA books do. J.K. Rowling and Eoin Colfer seem capable of enervating and elevating right from the start. But I had a bad experience in reading the first of the Lemony Snickett books in the Series of Unfortunate Events. That was an unpleasant little book reveling in the misery the children had. Never read another in the series and cannot for the life of me, explain the series' popularity.

Demons of the Ocean started the same way. The Tempest twins, Connor and Grace, are orphaned at the age of 14 and must choose between entering the local orphanage, a place of horrors, or getting adopted by the local banker, who's managed to finagle ownership of everything their late father had, including the Crescent Moon Bay lighthouse. They opt for a different solution, swiping the family boat and heading out onto the ocean, with not much beyond a memory of their father and a sea shanty both know backwards and forwards.

The shanty, oft repeated in the book, details the doings of Pirates and Vampirates on the high seas. It's just more unpleasantness. Not surprisingly, a storm brews up almost immediately. In the crashing aftermath of that storm, the twins are saved by two different ships, Connor to the pirate ship and Grace to the vampirate ship. I was close to calling it book closed. It felt all Snicketty.

But I persevered and was rewarded with a fairly entertaining read. I'd bet a lot of teenage boys would enjoy this book. The girls might not be so quick to pick this one up, or its sequels. Just a guess.

Told in basically alternating chapters, Connor and Grace become largely comfortable on their respective ships inside of a week. Connor's integration feels right and the action more or less flows. Grace's chapters come from a state of confusion. We, the reader, knows she's aboard the somewhat legendary vampirate ship. But, is she dead? Maybe she's a vampire now too? And if not, what about the enigmatic captain, who's visage is forever hidden away behind a mask?

Through it all, both twins believe, against the odds, that their other half yet lives. The sorrow I thought we were headed for, doesn't rear its depressing head. And things work out mostly at the end. A showdown of sorts between the two ships comes off rushed and a little bit of a letdown. And the included chapter of the next book hardly clears up the lack of major conflict. But there IS a feeling that the series is off in a good direction.

Now, if they could only explain the absence of Sidorio, a nasty villain-type, in the second book chapter, I'd be a little more inclined to buy it. If introducing Sidorio and then getting rid of him off-screen between books was Somper's idea of a solution, then I'd be greatly disappointed.

This book is aimed at a narrow audience. But I think it hits that target.

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