Jason Henderson’s new Alex Van Helsing series for young readers starts off with a bang in Vampire Rising. Admittedly, the Van Helsing name is what initially drew me in. When you think of vampire hunters, Van Helsing has gotta be near the top. Of course, the younger generation is going to think of Buffy first.
Interestingly enough, Henderson not only ties the vampire legend to Dracula, but also to Frankenstein, and he’s set the series near Lake Geneva, where Mary Shelley first wrote the famous short story that would later become a book that will live on in the annals of horror – oh yeah, literature, too.
The literary history captivated me. The story of that weekend where Mary Shelley (then 18 years old), Lord Byron, John Polidori, and Percy Shelley has been mined by several writers, but this is a new twist. The two literary histories, vampirism and Frankenstein, are inextricably bound in this book, and it looks like that’s going to be a staple of the series.
Young male readers are going to be entranced by the cornucopia of action Henderson throws into the story. The opening chapter has Alex Van Helsing (15 and in boarding school) facing a vampire in the forest at night. It’s his first time. He doesn’t believe in such things and believes that his last name is just bad luck.
From there, Henderson introduces his readers to what is going to be the staple of Alex’s posse: Mr. Sangster, the teacher who’s really an anti-vampire superspy with some hidden abilities, Minhi, the girl with martial arts skills and who is a Brainiac, and two guy friends cut directly from the nerd herd.
They’re up against a vampire called Icemaker (almost a James Bond villain name, right?) who’s trying to raise an old lover from the dead. Of course, if he does that, it will probably doom the world.
I like the cast of characters in this book, and yes, Sangster does remind me of a certain librarian from the Buffyverse, only tonied up a little more. Minhi looked like she was ready to come on and stand out, but she got lost in the shuffle of the action even with some of the chapters dedicated directly to her. There just hasn’t been much in the way of character development, or really what’s at stake so far. However, the book reads really fast, and I’m confident school librarians should put this one on their shelves because male readers will love the gimmickry, the references to pop culture, the action sequences that are movie-ready, and the one-liners.
Hopefully there’ll be more meat to dig into once Alex’s parents figure out what he’s been up to and have to deal with him knowing they’ve been keeping him in the dark.