Book Review: Growing Up Dead

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Book: Growing Up Dead (The Life and Undeath of Mortimer Drake)

Series: Mortimer Drake Vampire Series, Book 1

Author: Greg Wilkey

Genres: YA, Urban Fantasy

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“Mortimer Drake discovers that he is the product of a supernatural mixed-marriage. His mother is human and his father is a 925 year old vampire. His life is completely turned upside down as he struggles with this knowledge and his emerging vampiric nature. The truth behind the myths and legends of the vampire are revealed as Mortimer enters into a centuries old war of the Undead.”

Notes of Interest:

I think the reason I got this book was because of its about a boy finding out his father was a vampire and he’s a half-blood. There are loads of stories out there that follow a character from the moment he first turns until he reaches an acceptance of what he has become (or a way to fight it). And there are a lot of books out there that deal with warring factions of undead. These are genre staples when it comes to vampire characters or plots that revolve around them. But “awakening” plots are a little different — where someone doesn’t know she or he is a vampire, but must find out the truth the hard way. It adds a slightly different twist to learn that his whole previous life was a lie.

While I don’t know that I’d classify this as a horror genre read, it has horror elements. This is not a romance or comedy. It’s more like urban fantasy because of the way it handles magical beings living hidden among the mainstream populace. It uses Greek mythology to explore vampire existence, drawing upon such tales as the legend of Persephone and Hades, so it’s heavier on the mythology and family ties than blood and gore. But having said that … where’s there’s vampires, unless you’re talking about Bunnicula, there’s going to be some blood.

What could have made it better for me:

The technical errors in this book was the main distraction. There were more than average, mostly typos. That and the unbroken shifts in point of view made immersion difficult. One minute you would be in Mortimer’s head hearing his thoughts, and then suddenly you’re inside his father’s head hearing his thoughts, too. And this wasn’t a once or twice thing. It was a constant throughout the book. I’m sure the goal was third person omniscient point-of-view, but it jumps between characters’ minds without warning, paragraph breaks, or chapter breaks. It needed better editing.

The other thing that fell flat for me was the emotional depth of the characters. I will note that perhaps the reason for this is the difference between long adult novels and short, quick-read novels, which YA sometimes tends to be. What is adequate for the genre should be taken into consider here because it’s difficult to fully express a character’s emotional depth during life-altering upheavals when the plot demands that the character get over it and move on for the sake of low word count. But most of the time, the emotional reactions of the characters simply didn’t feel convincing. If the characters had shown a deeper attachment to each other or been more vulnerable to their losses and trauma(considering the events in the plot, which I won’t mention due to spoilers), the story would have felt more credible and engaging.

What I liked about it:

I enjoyed seeing a different take on a child vampire’s awakening and related struggles. I was glad to see that Wilkey didn’t hold back on some of the consequences of having a friend who’s a vampire, as opposed to everyone saying, “Cool!” and carrying on normally as if nothing had changed.

I liked the way the Greek mythology was brought into the vampire family history. It’s not the first time I’ve seen the Persephone and Hades connection used to explain the existence of fictional vampires, but I always enjoy seeing different takes on how it could have happened.

My favourite scene was probably when Mortimer was learning to fly. That’s something that is usually taken for granted among magical vampire talents, or it doesn’t exist as one of their talents; but it’s not often you get to see them bumbling about and falling into the ocean like baby birds falling from the nest, until they can claim their power.

I got the book looking for light entertainment and it accomplished that objective rather well. I imagine much of the technical problems were “first book” related, so the rest of the series is probably more polished.

The conflict between the warring vampire factions got off to a good start in this volume, so I assume that deepens in interest and plot twists as the saga continues in the books that follow.

Recommendation:

I’m undecided whether I’ll buy the rest of the series. The editing was off-putting, so I hope that improves in later volumes. But the content is interesting enough that I could be persuaded to give the next one a try. I like this take on the “coming of age” theme, and it has a nice balance between plot and character focus. Overall it was a light, entertaining read — exactly what I expected.

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