Review: The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker

Bohemia, 1741
On the northern banks of the Vltava River an extraordinary event is taking place.  Inside a private chapel a high-born Hungarian lady is being laid to rest.  But not before her heart is removed from her body and she is buried beneath a layer of heavy stones – lest she rise again to prey upon her victims…

Venice, 2010
Holidaying in the world’s most beautiful city, Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis discover a desecrated tomb.  Inside it is a female skeleton and a diary dating back hundreds of years.  Written in Latin, it refers to a lost scroll that will provide an ‘answer’ to an ancient secret.

Soon corpses of young women, all killed in the same ritualistic manner, start appearing throughout the city.  And when Angela disappears, Bronson knows that he must find her before she too is slaughtered.

But his hunt for Angela leads him to the Island of the Dead, and into a conspiracy more deadly than he could ever have imagined…

I picked up The Nosferatu Scroll with hopes for a fast-paced romp, maybe even a bit of so-bad-it’s-good cringey enjoyment, and, in general, I wasn’t disappointed.  Yet again, I’ve managed to join a series at the fourth installment; Bronson and Lewis have already starred in three popular thrillers, involving policework but also historical/archeological investigation, courtesy of Angela Lewis.  We’re reminded a number of times of her day-job at the British Museum in London.

The story was perhaps a little slow of kick off, at times reminding me more of a guide book of Venice, but that in itself was enjoyable – having visited the city myself, it was fun recalling the various locations, although perhaps they could have been introduced more subtly.  However, once the momentum began to build, the story zipped along, aided by the teeny chapters and normally well-used cliffhangers.  Occasionally, as with the location shots, these were a little clunky – there’s a question towards the end of the book which Bronson realises an Italian policeman didn’t ask that is made much too much of – but for the most part felt well dealt with, and in keeping with the thriller ‘formula’.

I will say that I won’t be recommending The Nosferatu Scroll to anyone for the beauty of its prose, but I don’t think anyone reads a book like this for delicate metaphors and lyrical description. This is a solid murderous thriller with a paranormal edge, providing a very different view of vampires to those twinkly Forks-dwellers from the Twilight franchise.  If you enjoyed the oeuvre of Dan Brown but wished he would stop splurging out information at start of each chapter like some kind of verbal Wikipedia, this may well be for you. And, for a next step up in terms of enjoyable writing style, why not try Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth or  Sepulchre, which merge historical fact with a hint of the supernatural and the beautiful landscape of the south of France.

The Nosferatu Scroll is published by Bantam Books.
The copy I’ve read is a BookCrossing book, and will be released back into the wilds of Colchester soon, if you fancy giving it a try.

Kate Neilan
@Magic_kitten

YA Review: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Before he died, the lighthouse keeper taught his children, Grace and Connor Tempest, a strange sea-shanty, telling the story of the terrifying Vampirates.  Only to them, the song is a comfort and a tantalising taste of the unknown.  Now he’s passed away suddenly and, without a mother – is she dead too?  They never knew her – the twins are all alone in the world.  They can’t stay in the lighthouse and their only other options seem to be the orphanage or allow themselves to be adopted by the local mayor.

These, for the twins, are both fates worse than death so they cast off in their father’s small boat and head out to sea, towards…who knows where.  A storm rolls in, capsizes and destroys the little craft and the pair are separated in the wreck.  Connor is dragged aboard The Diablo, a pirate ship full of the most affable and polite pirates I’ve ever read about, especially Connor’s bunk-mate Bart, the deputy Cheng-Li, who does everything ‘by the book’ (she’s fresh out of Pirate School) and of course, the charismatic Captain Wrathe, complete with a living snake hair accessory.  Grace washes up somewhere rather different, aboard another ship, rescued by a handsome young man called Lorcan, with piercing eyes, very shiny teeth and a dislike for sunlight.

I found Demons of the Ocean a fun, light, unchallenging first installment of a series; some readers have commented that the story seems unfinished and, sadly, I think that’s a common factor with YA books planned to be parts of a series from the outset.  In this case, there’s at least a measure of resolution, unlike some YA first-books I could mention *cough cough* Zom-B *cough cough* so I didn’t find it too off-putting.

I enjoyed the characterisation of the pirates; they were positive, sympathetic, comic characters, in the mode of Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Pirate Captain, from the series by Gideon Defoe.  Again, some readers have found this a poor choice, but I quite liked the idea of the pirate code taken to the extreme of having a training academy, organised distribution of piracy ‘sea lanes’ and so on.  The Vampirates are also relatively sympathetic, although generally misunderstood by normal humans. There is of course a vampire baddy, and indeed all the Vampirates have an air of danger about them, but many are also charming and just doing their best to survive, in the mode of modern vampire tales.

I did feel more effort could have gone into the twins, Grace and Connor Tempest.  There’s obviously something strange and unusual about them, which I’m sure will be explored further in later books, but I felt more could have been done to establish them as three-dimensional characters, rather than just to mention that Grace is the clever one and Connor is the sporty one.  Also, the death of their father is never explained and nor is anything about their missing mother, only that their father reappeared with them one day, no mum in sight.  I think a little more foreshadowing would have increased the tension, complimenting the gentle comedy and brief action sequences.

If I’m honest, it’s hard to write a review of this book, because it hasn’t evoked a very strong response in me, either way – I think this sits squarely ‘in the middle’.  It’s probably best suited to younger YA readers, maybe as young as 10, but will probably not pack enough punch for mid-teens onwards.  That being said, I enjoyed it as the first part in a longer work, and may well pick up the next installment if it happens to cross my path.

Kate Neilan

@Magic_kitten