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Vampirates Book 4 Black HeartI picked up a copy of Vampirates: Black Heart and only realized when I was about to start reading that it’s not the first volume in a series, as I had thought, but the fourth. Oh well! I read it anyway. I’m really not sure I was missing much, though my synopsis might be a bit vague.

Twins Grace and Connor have found themselves in some strange circumstances since their father died, their mother having died – more or less – when they were infants. I gather there was a shipwreck, and they were rescued by pirates – Connor – and Vampirates – Grace. Each was immediately attracted to the lives of their rescuers, Connor joining a pirate crew and Grace befriending the Vampirates. At the beginning of this volume, they’ve been briefly reunited and are in position to learn about their mother and her history. Also to get embroiled in internal Vampirate politics and a possible clash building between the mortal Pirates and the Vampirates and deal with first romance, them being fourteen and this being a vampire book.

I was not expecting either great writing or a great plot. I was rather hoping for a trashily fun book, with swashbuckling.

I am sad to report that there is decidedly little swashbuckling.

There are, however, rather a lot of exclamation points, often at rather inappropriate times. For instance, a character who is supposed to “come across as an old curmudgeon”¹ should not use exclamation points. Ever, really, much less often. On a similar vein is, “‘No!’ Cheng Li said very calmly.”² On cannot, by definition, exclaim calmly.

The pirates are overly civilized, the good Vampirates are boring, and the evil Vampirates are unconvincing in their evil. The strange lapses of sense³ could be somewhat forgiven by fun and swashbuckling, but alas, both are lacking.

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¹p. 412
²p. 491
³Why is a character who’s supposed to be kept out of combat being trained for a deadly combat mission? What is up with the “pregnancy spell”? How is the idiot character better at negotiation than the intelligent captain?

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Vampirates: Black Heart

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Test‘s heart is in the right place. Or, rather the left place, as in the left political place. I totally approve of that, of course.

What I do not approve of is heavy-handed didacticism.

Test is set in a slightly futuristic world in which all public-school students have to take the XCAS, hugely important exams which determine whether or not you graduate high school. No diploma, no college. No college, no chance to get rich and buy a helicopter, the only way to avoid the Traffic and the Pollution. Did I mention that the XCAS is backed by the president and his oilman friends? And, of course, if you can afford a helicopter, you can afford to put your students through private school, where students don’t have to take the XCAS.

Oh, and near the end you find out that the main cheesy slogan behind the XCAS is “No Child Left Behind.” Yes, my friends, that headache you’re developing is the result of being bludgeoned by a real-world connection which would have been so much more effective had it been more subtle.

Of course, I can’t help but feel that Sleator is writing for a world in which English class has already turned from reading books to test prep. While it’s more than a few paragraphs, his solution doesn’t raise the bar.