Review of Carpathia by Matt Forbeck
by Matt Forbeck
With its hundredth anniversary just last month, Titanic was all over the media, much to my dad’s chagrin. He doesn’t understand why everyone seems so fascinated by Titanic (the ship or the James Cameron movie). I personally don’t care much for the movie, but I can see why the ship has captured so many imaginations. It was a huge testament to human ingenuity—and hubris. Its sinking was a monumental event in the early twentieth century. Not only was the loss of life considerable—and perhaps preventable, had the ship been equipped with enough lifeboats—but the psychological toll for the survivors must have been particularly harrowing.
Of course, no matter how awful the situation, it could always get worse. You could get rescued by a ship unwittingly transporting vampires.
Now, I don’t quite have Titanic fever, and vampires aren’t my favourite beast in the mythological stable. So I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if it weren’t for my Angry Robot subscription. But I did, and it made for an interesting if unremarkable read. Carpathia has all the makings of a good book, but it’s missing a spark to elevate it above that.
Our protagonists survive the sinking of the Titanic only to discover that the ship that rescued them—the Carpathia—happens to be infested with vampires trying to get back to the Old Country. Some of the vampires see the Titanic disaster as an opportunity for a free meal, but they risk exposure, which the vampire leader does not condone. Soon enough, Quin, Abe, and Lucy find themselves hunting, staking, and battling vampires in a fight for survival just when they thought they were saved.
Matt Forbeck’s vampires are old-school, Stoker-esque creatures of the night. All the classic powers from Dracula: transformation into mist or into a bat, hypnosis, vulnerability to wooden stakes and sunlight and fire, and even sleeping in a coffin filled with dirt from one’s homeland; these are the hallmarks of a vampire in Carpathia. Indeed, the connection to Stoker goes even deeper, as the last names (Harker, Holmwood, and Seward) hint at from the beginning. To be honest, since I haven’t read Dracula, this connection didn’t do a lot for me. However, I appreciate that Forbeck’s vampires don’t sparkle and, you know, are actually kind of like how vampires should be.
Forbeck manages his protagonists’ transformation from sceptics to believers in a very natural way. After witnessing one vampire disposing of a body—at sea, this is as simple as throwing it overboard—Lucy and Quin alert the captain to the presence of a murderer on board. Eventually, they stumble into a cabin that appears to be the scene of some horrific crime. One of the vampires attacks Abe, but thanks to Quin’s quick action, he survives. This leads them to gathering the doctor as an ally, and as the three of them become reconciled to the existence of vampires, they have to decide how to investigate the threat to themselves and to the ship.
Likewise, we get some good characterization from the vampires too. They are unquestionably monstrous, motivated by a bloodlust and inflated by a sense of immortality and power. Yet they are cunning, and their instinct for self-preservation usually wins out over the desire to feed. The lead vampire, Dushko, is a savvy businessman who wants to lead his people back to the relative safety of the Old World. To do this, he knows they need to keep a low profile on board this ship, where the cramped conditions make them vulnerable if discovered (as we eventually see). But Dushko, the old and experienced vampire, is not the only one with opinions about how the vampires should live. Brody Murtagh would rather start a war with the humans and show them their place in the food chain. This point of contention proves dangerous—and fatal—as the book goes on.
Despite this careful cocktail of conflict, however, I had trouble seeing the point of the book for the first half of it. So Quin, Abe, and Lucy survive the sinking of the Titanic, and there are vampires on board the Carpathia. So … what? It took too long for us to go from rescue to the discovery of the vampires, and my interest began to flag. This problem arises again later in the book, after the vampires are no longer a secret and all hell breaks loose. Forbeck’s quite good at the set-up, but once he has set everything in motion, it all seems to move erratically and without any sense of a bigger picture. As much as I enjoyed individual moments in the book, it never really gave me a unified sense of satisfaction.
Also, I hated the love triangle among our three protagonists. I knew from the moment the two men and their woman companion were introduced that this would be a love triangle kind of book. Of course, I don’t object to love triangles per se—when used creatively and appropriately they’re just as interesting as any other trope. But the “I love her but she only has eyes for my best friend, so I will stay strong and silent” trope is just so overdone. To be fair to Forbeck, Quin’s very real brush with death galvanizes him to confess his love to Lucy. But that’s not enough. Combined with the mortal peril Abe suffers during the vampire attack and the eventual resolution of the love triangle, this relationship just felt like too much of a cliché.
Much like my experience with Amortals, I was initially going to give Carpathia two stars. It’s a good book, just not really one that piques my interest. For that reason, I began to reconsider my evaluation and wonder if three stars would be more appropriate. But unlike Amortals, Carpathia doesn’t leave me with any larger thematic concerns. It is a tasty blend of action, horror, and thriller, but beyond the story there isn’t much here. If you’re fascinated by fiction about the sinking of the Titanic or want to read a book with some Stoker-esque vampires, then Carpathia might work well from you. Just don’t expect anything more than what’s exactly on the box.