Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

Vampirates

First published in 2005, Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean is the first instalment of a six part series. It was written by Justin Somper and is targeted at 10-12 year olds (although I would say that there could be some appeal for an audience slightly older than this). Please note that there may be some minor spoilers in this review but I’ll try to steer clear of major plot points.

The story is set in the year 2505, after the oceans have risen and covered most of the world in water. Twins Grace and Connor Tempest grow up in a small and tightly knit community as they only children of the light house keeper. Throughout their childhood, their father sings them sea shanties about ‘Vampirates’ – the crew of a terrifying ghost ship that spells death to all those who see it.

Following their father’s death, Grace and Connor decide that they would rather run away than be taken in by another family. Quickly, their boat is caught in a storm and utterly destroyed. Connor is fished out of the ocean by Cheng Li – the Deputy Captain of a pirate ship. Convinced that his sister must also have survived, he joins the pirate crew in order to search the ocean for her. Meanwhile, Grace has been rescued by a mysterious sailor named Lorcan and taken aboard a ship of a different kind. Confined to a single cabin, she is told that she must remain hidden from the rest of the crew if she wishes for her safety to be assured…

While I confess that I still cannot look at the cover of this novel without smiling, I have to admit that the tale takes itself far more seriously than I would have expected. Unfortunately, as this novel is the first part of a series, this setting is only described in the briefest of terms. Most of the story takes place aboard the two ships and so we get to see very little of the world outside of this. This was somewhat of a disappointed to me as what little we did see was somewhat intriguing. One of my favourite parts of the story was when the pirate crew visited Ma Kettle’s Tavern – a lively establishment filled with bar maids who were more than capable of keeping their salty patrons in check.

As most of the story takes place on the high seas, the characters are limited in their movements and there is little more to discover about the structure of their world after the opening chapters. Grace, in particular, is largely confined to one room for the first half of the novel. This seems somewhat of an oversight. As the novel is titled Vampirates you would think that the author would want to show off his creation more than he actually does. I appreciate the perceived need to build mystery but, given that it is immediately obvious to the reader that Grace has been taken aboard the Vampirate ship, this seems to serve very little purpose. Having a character confined for so much of the tale seems a crying shame.

However, the novel does make up for its under-developed setting with its characters. The cast of Vampirates is rather large and incredibly diverse. As a personal preference, I must say that I felt that the author handled the human pirates the best. Connor’s half of the story was the far stronger read and would have formed an entertaining story in its own right even if the supernatural elements were stripped away. I found Connor a far more compelling character than his sister. He uses his time amongst the pirates productively – actively training to become a stronger person and conquer his fears as he looks for Grace. Connor really does grow a lot as a character in a small period of time. This is a lot more than can be said for Grace, but I will get to that shortly.

Connor’s arrival comes at a time of great change for the pirates, which is embodied in the contrast between the serious-minded Cheng Li and the flamboyant captain, Molucco Wrathe. The novel makes quite clear that these two characters are representative of the different schools of piracy. Wrathe stands for the old – a heavily romanticised kind of piracy that focuses on freedom and adventure. Conversely, Cheng Li represents a new kind of piracy that is more built on rules and regulations. I actually really liked this idea and think I would have enjoyed the story all the more if it had been the focus. Unfortunately, however, this subplot is brushed over and ultimately comes to nothing. I presume (or at least hope) these early hints will come to something in a later novel.

The Vampirate half of the story is a lot weaker. As I said earlier, I can see that the author was trying to build up suspense through these sections but unfortunately it just made Grace’s chapters repetitive and dull. Until the mid-point of the novel, Grace does nothing but sit in her room and questions Lorcan about her situation. In true vampire fashion, Lorcan merely deflects every question and divulges nothing beyond the fact that she will be in danger if she ever leaves the room.

Throughout these sections, Grace’s stupidity is astounding. From the first chapter it is established that she is supposed to be frail but incredibly intelligent, yet somehow it takes her until chapter 14 to figure out that she is on a ship full of vampires. This is even after she sees one vampire what can only be described as a demonic frenzy in chapter 11. Throughout the story, Grace does not develop in any way and this is somewhat of a disappointment.

The Vampirates are also a little lacking. Only four of them are described in any detail and two of these only appear at the very end of the novel. Our primary vampire in the story is Lorcan who is your now fairly standard romantic vampire – dark haired, handsome, Irish (even wearing a claddagh ring in what is possibly a nod to Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Naturally, he does not behave particularly demonically and comes across more as a person with a severe allergy to sunlight and predisposition to lament his condition.

The slow pace of the Vampirate half of the plot leads me to my final major issue with the story: the pacing.

As I have already said, Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean is the first part of a longer series and it really shows. Many plot points are thrown around that go absolutely nowhere. I have already mentioned the differing attitudes of the pirates towards their craft but this is just one of many such examples. The biggest one of these is probably the twins themselves. Throughout the story, they are described as having brilliant green eyes and being more talented than all of the other children. Is there a reason for this? I can’t tell you because we never find out.

This is far from the only loose thread in the story. Two young assassins that attack Wrathe in his cabin are last seen strung up from the rigging as punishment but are then never mentioned again. A rift forms between the nice Vampirates and the murderous ones but this really does not go anywhere in the end. Connor hears his deceased father’s voice on several occasions but we never find out why. The Vampirate Captain wears a mask and seems different to all of his crew but no explanation is ever given for this. These plot threads may well set the stage for later stories but the fact that so many of them remain unresolved makes the structure of this tale very weak if it is taken on its own.

The climax of the novel is also somewhat problematic. The entire story wraps itself up very abruptly within the last 10 pages, with very little build up to this final event. For me, this was the biggest disappointment of the novel. Given how slow moving the Grace chapters were in the middle of the novel, it seemed pretty weak that all of the action would come gushing like a final plot arterial spray. Rather than leaving me feeling excited and eager to read the next novel it just left a lingering sense of disappointment. In a story of swashbuckling and demonic pirates I just hoped for something a bit more thrilling.

So what’s my view as a whole? Well, I did rather enjoy some of the characters and think it’s a real shame that (other than Connor) so little time was given to developing them. I really hope that the weaknesses in the plot of this story are merely because the author went slightly overboard in his stage setting. Perhaps now that the author has given us a taste of his universe future stories will have better balance. There is certainly enough intrigue there in the hanging plot threads for me want to see where the story heads next. I will probably get to the next novel in the sequence, Vampirates: Tide of Terror, in a future review and I really hope that I won’t be disappointed.

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Vampirates: Dead Deep / Tide of Terror | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Vampirates: Blood Captain | Arkham Reviews

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