CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 1. . . .September 2, 2011
Ocean of Blood. (The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Book Two).
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2011.
231 pp., pbk., $13.99.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Laura Dunford.
Occasionally, when straddling corpses and wading through puddles of blood, Larten would remember that he had once been human. If his life hadn't taken the turn it did, he might have wound up on a field like this, fighting to the death, killing because he had to. He'd wonder how he would have felt in that position if he had looked up and seen a vampire studying him like an insect.
Ocean of Blood is the second book in Darren Shan's new series which revolves around the character of Larten Crepsley. At the end of the first novel, Birth of a Killer, Larten and his brother vampire, Wester, had left their master Seba to venture out into the world on their own. Ocean of Blood reads like a coming-of-age story for vampires, skipping years as though they were days as the two young vampires meet with other "Cubs" and engage in reckless rites of passage which include plenty of drinking and gambling. Well past the age of sixty, the two "Cubs" finally return to Seba at Vampire Mountain to begin training as Generals and enter vampire adulthood. Larten is seen as possessing great potential and, unbeknownst to him, is being trained to be a Prince, one of the highest positions within the vampire order. However, as Larten matures, he finds himself feeling restless and disappointed with his regimented life within Vampire Mountain. Larten abandons his training, leaving Wester and Seba behind as he embarks on a journey to find his own purpose.
Though Larten does not begin his ocean voyage until the end of the novel, his time on the waters leaves a strong impression. Ocean of Blood is filled with disturbing images of human suffering and death, seen through the initially apathetic gaze of Larten. These scenes are effectively contrasted with his sensitivity to the deaths of his fellow vampires. As Larten journeys on his own, he reconnects with humanity through his human assistant, Malora, who is unwavering both in her love for and loyalty to the vampire. The young woman is murdered defending Larten, and her death unleashes the killer in him. Shan expertly draws out the reader's simultaneous sympathy for Larten's loss and horror at his subsequent act of revenge. Shan ends the story with an image of Larten, half mad and suicidal, carrying an infant into the icy wilderness of Greenland.
Though the series thus far has been heavily focussed on male characters, Shan introduces several promising strong and interesting female characters, including the powerful witch, Evanna. Though these women are all portrayed as objects of sexual desire, Shan avoids falling into the vampire romance narrative through plot intervention, as in the murder of Malora, or by granting these women autonomy and, in the case of Evanna, power over the male vampires. Hopefully, Shan will continue to include and develop similar characters in the series and draw in a wider audience, one hungry for a vampire story that manages to be both dark and romantic without losing its substance.
Ocean of Blood is an engaging read, with short but action-packed chapters, perfect for tween readers looking for something exciting to read over the weekend. While Ocean of Blood can be read on its own, it is recommended that readers begin with Birth of a Killer in order to gain a strong understanding of the rules of Shan's vampire world. There are several scenes of violence which, while wonderfully written, may be disturbing to sensitive readers.
Laura Dunford is currently pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
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