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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Saltwater Vampires' by Kirsty EAGAR

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

He looked to the sky, praying for rain, a downpour, some sign from the heavens that he should refuse the abomination contained in that flask. 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's 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’ is being called ‘a distinctly Australian vampire thriller’.

The book opens in 1629, and introduces the Dutch shipwreck survivors of the Batavia. Among them is Jeronimus Cornelisz, an apothecary with a questionable offer of immortality for three other survivors; David Zeevanck, Gerrit Haas and Jan Pelgrom;
The apothecary leaned forward and whispered, “You want to know about the trick within the trick.”
Skip forward to present day and we meet Jamie Mackie; a fifteen-year-old Rocky Head native. He loves the sun, sand, surf and Rocky Head’s annual music festival. Jamie lives for the waves and the oblivion of riding inside a wall of water. Surfing has become quite cathartic to Jamie since a boating accident saw his best-friend permanently scarred and refusing to talk to him. Things have been tense between Jamie and Dale ever since the accident, but Jamie never thought that Dale would go so far as to attack him... While surfing one morning Dale starts swinging fists in the ocean, ending the fight with a vicious bite to Jamie’s neck. What follows is Jamie’s hunt for answers, along with his best friend Tanner, Dale’s girlfriend Kelly and new resident of Rocky Head, Talia – this group of surfer locals uncover more than they ever bargained for and discover a dark side to Rocky Head.
Jamie removed his sunglasses, squinting at Willem.
“Too bright for you?” Willem asked knowingly.
It was. Blindingly bright. Jamie had to jam his sunglasses back on. “How do you know it’s a bite?”
“I said, it’s a special kind of bite. And it must be real because I don’t know why you’d manufacture something like that. It’s completely at odds with your type.”
“My type?”
“You’re a capitalist waxhead. Not the type who’s into dark fantasy.”
“You got that right. Even if I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about nigthwalkers, bloodsuckers, phantoms of the night...Vampires.”
Apart from Keri Arthur’s ‘Riley Jenson’ series, Australian authors really haven’t jumped on the Urban Fantasy/Vampire bandwagon. Personally, I think that all needs to change... because ‘vampires’ as a subject are not a passing fad. They are a genre unto themselves, and there’s definitely room in the Australian book market for some uniquely Aussie vampire tales... case and point, Eagar’s ‘Saltwater Vampires’.

How to describe this book? It’s an eclectic mix of the very best of Vampirism and Australian culture. It’s reminiscent of the 1987 cult-classic ‘The Lost Boys’, with a dash of Keanu’s ‘Point Break’, and a nod to the ‘Underworld’ movie franchise. But still with an Aussie flair, for Eagar’s writing style reminded me of our two heavy-weight authors (in their respective readerships) Tim Winton and John Marsden.

The pace is slow, and I found that initially hard to overcome. But at some point it clicked for me that this is an *Australian* vampire novel. Eagar isn’t writing to Urban Fantasy conventions as I've come to know them through American UF books. Eagar is instead putting an Aussie spin on an old gothic tale. And the fact of the matter is; every country in the world has different storytelling conventions, and Aussie books likewise have a different flavour. I would say our books prefer a more relaxed narrative style, letting the character’s introduce themselves and the story unravel as it will. The slower pace also works for the fact that this is a surfing novel, and there’s something about that culture that’s all about being laidback and carefree.

Eagar beautifully delves into characterization. As much as the vampire plot is exhilarating and terrifying, Eagar’s exploration of her character’s motivations is equally intricate and submerging. Jamie is a boy who hates himself. He let his best mate down and is now living with survivor’s guilt. Jamie is a wonderful hero for all his flaws and complexities, some of which are on the surface, but readers also have to work to recognize his deeper scars.

Jamie’s ‘Scooby gang’ consist of his best mate and quintessential surfer dude, Tanner (who yawns when he’s nervous. Ha!). Dale’s girlfriend, Kelly, with whom Jamie has his own complications. And new Rocky Head resident, Talia, who uses her hotness magic on the boys. This isn’t your typical crack-squad of vampire hunters, but they are very typical Australian teenagers and a chance for Eagar to hold up a very apt mirror to our younger generation.

Eagar has really used the Australian landscape to great horror advantage. ‘Saltwater Vampires’ takes place in and around the sea (Australia is an island; after all). The sand and surf make for an eerie backdrop to the collision and confrontations with the vampires. The eeriness of a black ocean at night, and the loneliness of crashing waves; Eagar captures this picturesque Australian scenery and turns it into an astonishingly spine-tingling gothic setting;
“By then, the tip of a lava-orange sun had appeared over the horizon. The ocean was purple and grey, bruised by the dawn sky.”
The story jumps between present day in Rocky Head, following Jamie as he searches for his friend Dale, and discovers more than he bargained for. Then a few chapters flashback to ‘Amsterdam, three weeks earlier’. In Amsterdam a covert organization called ‘Piravem’ guard the four original vampire bloodlines, but supernatural terrorism looms when Jeronimus Cornelisz steals the blood of ancient vampire, Vitus.
This jump-back was quite jarring, but once I let Eagar’s distinctly Australian narrative take the reigns the flashback paid off. Ten-fold. I had to stick with it, but the converging of storylines were worth the wait and moments of confusion.

The book does have a few problems. I had one small complaint about the vampire 'reveal', as it was a little too convenient and coincidental for my liking. Jamie bumps into a brainiac classmate who sees his neck wound and connects the dots because as well as being a super genius he is a fan of vampire fiction. The reveal was a little clunky for me. But having read a lot of Urban Fantasy, I know that lots of writers struggle with the plot technicalities of explaining vampires in the real world - at least Eagar didn't go the Stephenie Meyer route and have Jamie type keywords into a search engine.

Like I said earlier, Australian authors (or publishers?) really haven’t responded to the Vampire literary craze. I’m sure there’s lots of reasons for that – mainly that America has really cornered the market, and also that the Australian literary scene is by comparison smaller and heavy on the *literary*. I hope that changes, soon-ish. If Eagar’s ‘Saltwater Vampires’ is anything to go by, then we do have Australian voices out there that have a vampire tale to tell... and I, for one, would love to read about vampires in my backyard.



  1. Great review Danielle. This sounds like a must read. Thanks for the heads up.


  2. Great review Dani! Sounds like a great book =)


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