October 06, 2005


Vampire Plagues: London, 1850…Paris, 1850…Mexico, 1850. By Sebastian Rook. Scholastic. $5.99 each.

     For exciting escapist adventure, untainted by the slightest touch of profundity, kids ages 9-12 should flock to Sebastian Rook’s Vampire Plagues trilogy.  It has thrills aplenty, just enough gore to stand up well in a videogame world, and fast, cinematic pacing.  There are none of the profound implications of the encroachment of modern civilization upon ancient mysteries, leading to an ultimate battle between the world of the future and that of the past, that make Bram Stoker’s Dracula a great novel.  Instead, Rook’s trilogy features a trio of plucky young heroes designed to mirror the hoped-for readership: two boys and one girl, with one boy and the girl being well-to-do brother and sister and the other boy being a poverty-stricken wharf rat with plenty of “street smarts.”  The characters are more vehicles through which the reader  participates in the action than fully formed individuals – but in this case, the approach works very well, precisely because Rook pares the good-vs.-evil theme down to its basics and effectively uses the heroic trio (with periodic adult help) as the vessels of all that is right.

     The vessel of all that is wrong is a vampire called Camazotz, imprisoned for a millennium in a cave in Mexico that is disastrously disturbed in the London volume by an expedition led by Harrison Cole.  Cole’s son, Ben, is along on the expedition and becomes its sole survivor, eventually returning to London after a series of harrowing adventures and setting out to find his sister, Emily, who is one year older.  The street urchin, Jack, helps Ben at the London docks and eventually becomes an equal partner in vampire-hunting.  Camazotz is more a bogeyman of the “creature under the bed” variety than the force of elemental evil that is Stoker’s Dracula.  But the vampire hunt, which is very well paced, has numerous exciting moments, leading eventually to a potent spell-casting that should send Camazotz to Hell.  But the spell does not quite work, opening the way for volumes two and three.

     Paris starts with Jack dreaming of being estranged from Ben and Emily and trapped by a resurgent vampire horde, continues with news of a plague of death and bloodlessness in Paris akin to the one the vampire fighters thought they had overcome in London, and proceeds with a trip to Paris and the assistance of a new vampire fighter, Dominique.  The focus here, more than in the first book, is on a broken amulet that will grant Camazotz even more power if the pieces can be found and joined.  The amulet then becomes the primary focus in Mexico, which takes Ben back where the story began in a search for the final section of amulet – with Camazotz and his minions close behind.  “We are locked in a terrible battle here with an inhuman enemy….If we lose, our men are dead – or worse!” exclaims one character.  Well, yes – the dialogue isn’t much, but somehow this trilogy is better as a totality than its component parts would indicate.  It is a great deal of fun to read and is often genuinely exciting – perfect for whiling away the hours in a place of warmth, where all the chills are mental.

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