Vampirates: Empire of Night by Justin Somper

It was my daughter who got me into theVampirates books – she liked the look of them so she, ahem, bought me the first one as a birthday present a year or two ago . Empire of Night is the fifth book in the series.Despite the fact that most of the books we own in the series are the infamous ‘vampire skull’ versions, I’ve always felt that the style of the cover seems to suggest these books are for a younger audience.

 This impression’s further deepened by the fact that the recommendation tag on the front of Empire is by Anthony Horowitz, whose books (enjoyable as they are) are firmly in the 8-12 category and stretch the credibility of older readers just that bit too far – an inexperienced snowboarder escaping down a treacherous mountainside on an upturned ironing board, which me manages to flip on to the top of a moving train at the bottom? Pur-lease!)

Vampirate books, on the other hand, are probably best not read by anyone below 10 or 11 as there are a few teenage themes in there that many parents might have an issue with for their 8 and 9 year olds. On the other hand, they are a gripping read and have plenty of adult context for teens to enjoy – if they haven’t been put off by the ‘aimed at 9 year olds who like scary stories’ cover. It’s an exciting series, compelling you to be part of the crew in such a way that sometimes you have to shake yourself and remember that piracy is, well…naughty. Hard to remember when the everyday pirates in the series live by strict laws, have a sense of honour, and are basically the goodies!
For those unfamiliar, the series follows the adventures of Grace and Connor Tempest, orphans who are drawn into the Vampirate world in their teens, and end up taking – if not different sides, certainly different paths through that world. We’re told we’re 500 years in the future, although TBH I can’t think of anything in the books that refers to that, or requires it for believability. It’s impossible to discuss the plot of this book at all without delivering a major spoiler, particularly if you haven’t read the earlier books, but I will say that one of the charms of this book is that we get to see Grace, Connor and some of the other major characters in a new light – Grace and Connor get a chance to see life from the other side of the fence, and find that its no longer so clear just where they should be.

The themes of finding yourself, and discovering that you’re more like your parents than you care to admit (or want to believe!) run through this book strongly. The prologue manages to be a cliffhanger and intriguing flash forward – and turn what you thought you knew about a lead character, on its head – quite an achievement! It’s all the more horrible when we come to this scene again in the book and realise exactly what’s happened to Connor, and how this scene is set to play out.

As always, Somper’s writing manages to be pacy yet provide vivid descriptions. The only negative feeling I had about this book was that I felt Grace and Connor agreed to try their life change a little too easily – they agreed to consort with those that they hated and feared without enough soul-searching or protest. For the first time it seemed that these two lead characters were acting – well, out of character! And that spolit the book for me just a teeny bit.

But only a teeny bit. And you have to love – after that fantastic prologue – the beginning of Chapter 1 (no spoiler here, as all is not as it seems).

“Sidorio stood on the beach, cradling in his hands the decapitated head of his new bride.”

This link takes you to a free sample – Chapter 3 – On Justin’s website. Be warned though, it does venture into the realm of Spoilerdoom.

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