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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SALTWATER VAMPIRES By Kirsty Eagar. Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin, 2010



In 1629, a Dutch ship, Batavia, on its maiden voyage, was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia. The captain and some of his crew left in a boat looking for water, then for help. While he was gone, a number of the remaining crew mutinied and committed a mass murder of many passengers. When the captain finally returned, the mutineers were arrested and, mostly, executed, although two of them were left behind, stranded on the coast of Western Australia. We don’t know what happened to them, although there are unlikely stories about “blue-eyed Aborigines”, suggesting they settled down and had descendants.

That much is history – and I researched it for my last book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, which made this novel of even more interest to me. The story of Batavia has been used a number of times in fiction, but this is the first time I’ve found it in a vampire story – and what a delicious idea it is! What if, suggests the author, the four main mutineers, led by Jeronimus Cornelisz, had done all that killing for a very specific purpose – to have a source of food for the feeding frenzy that would follow their planned, deliberate turn to the vampire state? What if, in fact, they’re still around in the twenty-first century and have plans yet again? Where better to do it than a small coastal town which hosts an annual music festival?

Jamie is a surfer teen. He’s been feeling bad about abandoning his mate Dale one night, to swim for help when Dale’s father’s boat was on fire. Dale is alive but not well and not talking to him. One night Jamie goes surfing to avoid the daytime crowds, when Dale arrives on his own surfboard – and bites him.

Dale has turned, Jamie is turning and there’s only one way to recover their mortality. Can they do this and save the town before New Year’s Eve when everything is going to go pear-shaped?

Read it and find out!

I liked the suggestion that you can’t just become a vampire – or turn someone to vampire state – without the permission of Piravem, a sort of vampire guild in Amsterdam. Anyone turned by accident is tracked down and killed. Can’t have mortals starting to believe they exist! Those who want to become immortal have to do an apprenticeship, then be approved by the guild. Some people, of course, just won’t do it by the book, so the guild has not been happy with Cornelisz and his friends over the centuries.

The characters are likable and there’s enough normal teen angst to make it more than just another vampire story - “My mate isn’t talking to me, I like his girlfriend, there’s a terrific new girl in town…”

Best of all, there’s no dark, brooding and honourable vampire for the girls to fall in love with! They’re scum, pure and simple.

This is a truly Aussie vampire story, not only in the setting but in the history that goes with it. Highly recommended.

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