Review of Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

Title: Carpathia
Author: Matt Forbeck
Published: 28 February 2012 (USA & Canada); 1 March 2012 (rest of the world)
Publisher: Angry Robot
Genre: fantasy, horror
Source: eARC from the publisher
My Rating: 4/10

The first thing I need to tell you is that the official Angry Robot blurb for this book is misleading. This is what it says:

When the desperate survivors of the Titanic were rescued from the icy waters of the North Atlantic by the passenger steamship Carpathia, they thought their problems were over.

But something was sleeping in the darkest recesses of the rescue ship. Something old. Something hungry.

The lucky ones wished they’d gone down with the ship.

Based on that blurb, I assumed the plot went something like this: Titanic sinks. Survivors are rescued by the Carpathia. Unknown monsters start preying on the passengers of the Carpathia. Survivors must find out what the monsters are and kill them or be eaten. Reader gets to enjoy a combination of mystery and horror.

Lies!

Firstly, it’s only about a third of the way into the novel that the survivors actually board the Carpathia. Until then, you have to spend an unexpectedly long and boring amount of time with characters on the sinking ship and in the icy water, waiting for the rescue ship to arrive.

Secondly, the monsters don’t even wait for the Titanic to finish sinking before making a meal of the passengers. Soon after the distress call is sent, they hurry over to the vessel to feed on the poor survivors, who everyone will just assume drowned.

Finally, there’s no mystery about what the monsters are. They’re vampires. “[S]omething…sleeping… Something old. Something hungry” – that’s just marketing crap to build tension that the book wastes little time in dissipating. And I’d really been looking forward to that mystery.

To be fair though, this is a criticism of the blurb and my interpretation of it rather than the story; it doesn’t mean the book itself can’t still be good. Except it’s not. It’s lame. I wish Angry Robot had given Matt Forbeck that blurb and told him to write a story that fit it, because I found the blurb pretty enticing in a pulpy sort of way.

So what’s wrong with the novel? Well most of my issues with it are actually linked to the ways in which it departs from assumptions I made based on the blurb. It takes too long for the Carpathia to pick up the passengers, and in the meantime we’re treated to something that feels a like a novelisation of James Cameron’s movie after they hit the iceberg, with the addition of vampires who feed on the passengers. Instead of Jack, Rose and that other guy, you’ve got a love triangle between three lifelong friends, Lucy Seward, Abe (Abraham) Holmwood and Quin (Quincey) Harker. Hint fucking hint. Forbeck obviously wasn’t trying to write a mystery novel, or he wouldn’t have named all three of his leads after characters from Dracula. At first this seemed like a reference gone too far, but it’s later revealed that Bram Stoker is actually a friend of the Seward, Holmwood and Harker families. And *gasp!* it appears his novel was as much fact as fiction.

Even though you know what the monsters are the novel could still be tense, but again it’s not. Of course there’s danger, and plenty of gory action, but somehow there’s no sense of urgency. It’s just not gripping enough. One reason might be that instead of one main plot you have several subplots. There’s the sinking Titanic, a strand that ends a third of the way in. There’s a love triangle – Lucy is dating Abe, but Quin is in love with her. The vampire leader, Dushko, is in conflict with a younger vampire, Brody, who wants to do things differently, with the result that a fight between the vampires is as much of an issue as a fight between vampires and humans. Finally, there’s the plot that gets marketed as the main one – vampires killing passengers and crew. However, it’s not even all the vampires who try or even want to do this. Dushko had planned as discreet a journey as possible; it’s Brody who starts all the mayhem. Also, most of the vampires remain hidden in the ship’s cargo holds and don’t get the chance to attack anyone. There’s too much going on here, but none of it is quite exciting enough.

Another reason for the lack of tension is that the vampires were kind of lame. They’re the old-school kind who are vulnerable to garlic and crucifixes, have to sleep in coffins lined with the dirt of their homeland, and can turn into mist, bats or wolves. Shape-shifting abilities are awesome, but the rest amounts to weakness, much more so than in Dracula. One slap in the face with a crucifix and Carpathia’s vampires run screaming as their flesh boils away. The use of these traditional weapons is made even more disappointing by the fact you’re led to expect something more modern and innovative. Dushko is extremely concerned about the progress made by modern science, warning that humans are not as vulnerable as they once were. This sounded to me like the foreshadowing of some awesome steampunk weapons, but NO! – that might have been fun, so the humans stick to their stakes and crucifixes.

All this is bad enough, but there are also some glaring inconsistencies and oddities to annoy you just in case you might somehow start to enjoy the book. For example, when the Titanic sinks, the passengers swimming in the freezing water continue to converse as if they were still enjoying cigars and brandy in the smoking lounge. They keep talking about the cold, but they speak in calm, full sentences; no chattering teeth or any real sense that they’re at risk of freezing to death. The vampires on the Carpathia are moving, en masse from New York back to Europe because some of them were careless and and their killings risked exposing the whole group. I don’t know why they have to leave the entire continent and couldn’t just move to another city or state, or why they have to live in one large group instead of splitting up. When gearing up to fight the vampires, Quin goes to get the large crucifix that his mother insisted he pack – a miracle, since his luggage went down with the Titantic.

How could Forbeck (and the editors) be so sloppy and waste so much potential? The only thing he does satisfactorily is to depict the culture and sensibilities of 1912, at least for readers, like myself, who would only notice the most heinous historical inaccuracies. A lot of time I actually felt like I was reading some obscure pulp fiction that had actually been written in the 1910s.

If that sounds appealing, then you can order a copy of Carpathia, which is coming out on 28 February in the US and Canada, and on 01 March in the rest of the world. Otherwise, just ignore it.

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2 thoughts on “Review of Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

  1. Pingback: February Round-Up | Violin in a Void

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