Plot Outline:

Larten and Wester have cut themselves off from their master, Seba Nile, to run with the Cubs, young vampires who have not yet fully committed to the demands of the clan. They drink and womanise their way across the world, and revel in warfare. Following the death of a friend, Larten and his blood-brother link up with Seba to resume their studies. After they meet with Evanna (and a familiar assistant!) for the first time, Seba takes the pair to Vampire Mountain to train. Larten makes swift progress, but he is unhappy in himself, and feels like he has abandoned the human world too soon. To Wester's dismay, Larten cuts short his studies and sets off by himself. Feeling lonely and purposeless, he is "adopted" by a young woman who has big plans for him. As they cross the world together, Larten has no idea of the dire dangers they will face when they board a ship bound for lands far away, across an ocean that will soon run red with human blood...

Author Notes:

Ocean of Blood, the second book in The Saga Of Larten Crepsley, was published in 28th April 2011. I started the first draft in February 2007, directly after finishing work on the first book (Birth of a Killer). The second installment of his story focuses on Larten during his most indecisive years. While most of my books are fantastical, dealing with vampires, demons and magic, at the same time they are ways for me to look at the real world and explore real-life issues. I know that many teenagers and young adults feel lost as they take their first tentative steps into the world. It's a hard thing, leaving your childhood and family home behind, deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life. Many of us make mistakes and take wrong turnings before we find our way and settle on a path of our own choosing.

While Larten has always loved the world of the clan, he is not sure if he is worthy of a place within it. He doubts himself, his strengths, his desires. He spends time with the Cubs -- the vampire version of those people who go to university primarily to drink lots of alcohol and live a wild life for a few years! As he starts to mature, he realises he can't go through the rest of his life at this hard-living level, so he tries to be a good student under Seba Nile again. But he still has itchy feet and wants to see more of the world, try different things, explore other options. He's not sure what exactly it is that he wants to do with his future, and indecision causes him a lot of sleepless days and troubled thoughts.

This was one of the most interesting periods of Larten's life for me. We could see a lot of traces of the man he would become in the young boy we first encountered in Birth of a Killer. But this book grants us an insight into his complexities -- Larten was never a straightforward, one-dimensional character. He was a man who endured much over the course of his life, who didn't have a smooth ride all the time. I think that life for most people is a struggle at one time or another. As children and teenagers, we don't always see that in our parents and other adults. We see the finished articles that they have become, and assume that they were always this way. But our elders were young once too. They did foolish things. They experimented. They got stung. They learnt and matured and developed, in some cases quickly and easily, in other cases slowly and with many difficulties. Just like we do, and like our children will, and theirs after them.

Ocean of Blood sees Larten at his most vulnerable and lonely. He feels lost in this world. There are people who try to help him -- I think all of us can find friends when we need them, it's just that sometimes we don't realise they're there, because we're only looking inwards. But Larten rejects the offers of assistance. He's not always sure why -- he just feels like he has to push forward by himself. The book, ultimately, is a warning that no man is an island, that nobody should try to stand alone. We all need help at one point or another, and the world is a far more dangerous place if we don't accept the offer of a hand-up when we're down.

That makes it sound like this is a very gloomy book. And, to be fair, it IS one of the darkest books I have ever written. I felt sorry for Larten while I was working on this chapter of his life. I wanted to ease his pain and make things easier for him. But we've always got to take the bad along with the good, and to explain how Larten became the man that he did, I had to show him in his darkest hours too. Having said that, it's not ALL doom and gloom! I think the Cubs are fascinating creatures, who redefine what we think we know about the clan. Vancha is a source of humour. We get to meet Evanna for the first time, along with some other characters who will become major factors in Larten's life in later years. There's an encounter with a little-known author who is trying to write a book about bloodsuckers. And we meet a boy who will cook up a storm for Darren Shan a couple of centuries further down the line... (For those who failed to make the connection, you might want to have a quick look again at book 10 of the original series, Lake Of Souls, in particular the rather unusual sailor that Darren and Harkat hook up with during the course of their travels.)

But, for all its lighter touches, there's no escaping the fact that this is a bleak, heart-wrenching book that will leave you feeling almost as hollow as its protagonist by the time you turn the last page. Larten is about to set sail on deadly, sorrowful waters, and you're going to be there with him for every roll of the blood-speckled waves. It's not a journey you will forget any time soon. Even though it's one you might wish to blank from your memory as you lie in bed at night, shuddering and maybe even weeping softly...

p.s. A very important character in Larten's life (and, indeed, in Darren's) first appears in this book late on in the action, but isn't name-checked in its pages. If you haven't read the book before, see if you can figure out who it might be when you do. The answer is revealed in the first half of book 3, Palace of the Damned.

p.p.s. My Granny, Mary Barry, nee Griffin, passed away on April 29th, the day after this book's release, so I will always remember it with a hint of sadness that has nothing to do with the book itself. My Grannny was like a second mother to me and I still miss her all these years later, but I know I was lucky to have had her in my life for as long as I did, and feel blessed that I was graced with such a loving, funny, intelligent, warm grandmother. Even in death may she be triumphant!

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