YA Review: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
October 29, 2012
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.