Saltwater Vampires by Kirsty Eagar

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

He looked to the sky, praying for rain, a downpour, some sign from the heavens … But all he saw was the bloated white face of the moon smiling down on him … And the sky around it was cold and clear and black …
They made their circle of blood. And only the moon witnessed the slaughter that followed.

For Jamie Mackie, summer holidays in the coastal town of Rocky Head mean surfing, making money, and good times at the local music festival. But this year, vampires are on the festival line-up … fulfilling a pact made on the wreck of the Batavia, four hundred years ago. If their plans succeed, nobody in Rocky Head will survive to see out the new year.

Saltwater Vampires takes a real historical atrocity (the mutiny and massacre of at least 110 people following the 1629 shipwreck of the Batavia) and reimagines it as vampiric turning ritual ('Vampires did it' makes it seem less awful, somehow). The historical angle is well-executed and intriguing. Most of the story occurs in the present day, and centres around Jamie and his friends becoming embroiled in another terrible vampiric plot centred around the local music festival. It's fun and fast-paced and a little bit outlandish, but there's still a sincerity to the story and the relationships between characters.

I loved the setting - an Australian coastal town over the break between Christmas and New Year - which is antithesis of setting in traditional vampire novels (where it is perennially dark, rainy, misty and thunderous in either a) an old time-y European castle complete with bats or b) a vaguely American small town that has frequent mysterious disappearances). The vampire mythology is consistent and credible - plenty of standard vampire stuff with a few little twists. Vampires are able to see the future in mirrors, which is an absolute torment for them, hence why they don't like mirrors, and the fact that they don't need to breathe allows them to live underwater. If you like your vampires sparkly and sexy, this is probably not the book for you - the vampires are creepy and sinister and really not the kind you want to encounter during an evening stroll.

(An aside: the plan of the vampires in this novel reminded me of the plan of the leviathans in season 8 of Supernatural. Juice = Turducken. Plus, the vampirates in the same season are not entirely unlike the saltwater vampires in this novel.)

The things that appealed the most to be about the novel weren't necessarily the things that were emphasised - the story of Jamie and his friends was what the majority of the story centred around, while I really wanted to find out more about the secret vampire society and the motivations and backgrounds of each of the vampires - like further explanation of Jeronimus Cornelisz's obsession with Lucretia Jans, how people get recruited by the vampire organisation (I'm keen on being pale and running really fast and being able to eavesdrop really well, can I join?), that sort of stuff. So it reads more like a contemporary YA, with vampires and sprinklings of history thrown in.

I'd recommend Saltwater Vampires to younger YA readers (the central characters are fifteen). It's a very enjoyable vampire novel with an interesting historical aspect, that's centrally character-driven - even if you're not a big fan of paranormal fiction, it's still worth picking up.

Saltwater Vampires on the publisher's website.
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