Department 19 by Will Hill – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

Department 19

Bane of Kings catches up on the young adult horror novel, Department 19, written by Will Hill and published by Harper Collins. 

“A thrilling, intense young adult book. This is what happens when Darren Shan meets Anthony Horowitz.” ~The Founding Fields

I missed out on Department 19 when it was first released, and I was slightly disappointed by the fact that I did not get round to buying/reading it as it had received some great feedback from several people and was certainly an eye-catcher. So I leapt at the chance when it arrived on NetGalley recently, and instantly downloaded it after I requested it and began reading.

And really enjoyed this novel. Whilst vampires may be the main threat in Department 19, they’re not the Twilight kind. If you’re after a young adult novel similar to Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series but mashed with the horror elements of Darren Shan’s Cirque Du Freak series, then Department 19 could very well be the book for you if you haven’t read it already.

Jamie Carpenter’s life will never be the same. His father is dead, his mother is missing, and he was just rescued by an enormous man named Frankenstein. Jamie is brought to Department 19, where he is pulled into a secret organization responsible for policing the supernatural, founded more than a century ago by Abraham Van Helsing and the other survivors of Dracula. Aided by Frankenstein’s monster, a beautiful vampire girl with her own agenda, and the members of the agency, Jamie must attempt to save his mother from a terrifyingly powerful vampire.

Department 19 takes us through history, across Europe, and beyond – from the cobbled streets of Victorian London to prohibition-era New York, from the icy wastes of Arctic Russia to the treacherous mountains of Transylvania. Part modern thriller, part classic horror, it’s packed with mystery, mayhem, and a level of suspense that makes a Darren Shan novel look like a romantic comedy.

The first thing that catches my eye when I’m reading this blurb is oddly, not Frankenstein’s monster, but “a beautiful vampire girl…” and I was slightly worried that this book would focus more on the romance and the development of it than the action that a title with Frankenstein’s monster, vampires and secret organisations could provide. But I shouldn’t have worried – Will Hill’s tale is a great read, the action having the weight of the plot even though the Jamie Carpenter’s love interest is indeed the vampire girl.

Department 19The book itself is a great young adult read. Not only is the time spent in the present, but the carefully plotted novel takes time to delve into separate adventures of Abraham Van Helsing et al from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and through their eyes, we learn about the Department 19 and its creation. We also learn about the events that caused Jamie’s father’s death, so this book is pretty flashback heavy as characters such as the vampire girl, Larissa, also has her origins explained through a flashback and we learn that she is a very strong and independent character. The characters themselves are all well created and established, with Jamie Carpenter occupying the spot of the story’s main lead. Whilst I found it hard to like Jamie as a character mainly due to his attitude throughout the book (I honestly couldn’t care that much for him but he was beginning to grow on me as the book went on), I guess that young teenagers will easily want to get behind the youngest Carpenter especially,  when Hill makes the villainous faction detestable.

Bounding from location to location, Department 19 takes the reader all across various parts of the world and really uses these locations successfully. As the blurb tells us, we visit everywhere from London to Arctic Russia and what is great about this is that the pace doesn’t slow down at all throughout – and it speeds along very fast. Readers won’t want to just stick to one character’s story, they’ll want to follow all the threads as they lead to the dramatic conclusion that pulls a twist that beautifully wraps up the book and leaves readers ready for the second installment.

So, is Department 19 a perfect novel? Not quite. I’ve already expressed my dislike of the lead character, but I also think that Jamie shifted from being that weak and pathetic kid that everybody likes to bully at school – a problem increased by the fact that his dad’s labelled as a traitor to England, into a badass vampire slayer after only one training mission. I don’t buy it that just because his father may have been an awesome fighter, Jamie will suddenly become one two. But those two flaws didn’t take away the sheer enjoyment that I had from reading Department 19, and if you don’t mind reading young adult fiction at all – I highly suggest that you check this title out. Department 19 is the book that kicks what is hopefully a strong urban fantasy series into gear and I will certainly be picking up book two.

VERDICT: 3.5/5

Department 19 has some great action, a well developed plot and cast with a thrilling storyline, but has the disadvantages of an unlikable main character who becomes a badass way too easily. The pros outweigh the cons though.

The Department 19 series: Department 19, The Rising, Battle Lines (August 2013)


Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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