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Review: Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

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Forbeck's novel of the Titanic's sinking - or rather, the sinking, and what came after it - isn't a strictly historical retelling of the 1912 disaster (a timely release, and probably one of all too many this coming year).  That the Carpathia came to the rescue of the survivors of the Titanic is a matter of history; presumably it was that name that inspired the subject of this novel by Forbeck - because in Carpathia are not simply travellers wanting to go to the Old World, but a hold full of vampires.  Thus what we have here is a tribute to Dracula - more naked than most - and a disaster story uncommonly familiar to us, but combined to great and positive effect.

The plot of Carpathia starts with the sinking of the Titanic, on which we meet Lucy Seward, Quin Harker and Abe Holmwood, our three protagonists (and if you recognise those names from the work of a certain Mr. Stoker, he is defined as an old family friend - Uncle Bram).  The three are fast friends, although the (strictly heterosexual) love triangle complicates matters somewhat; but over the course of the novel their friendship is tried and tested as they are forced to first fight to escape the Titanic, and then to escape the vampiric infestation of the Carpathia.  That they recognise the vampires for what they are is thanks in no small part to Uncle Bram, and its also thanks to him that they can fight them; the trio are very much strong characters, and never pretend for a moment to be otherwise, although Lucy has a moment at the close of the novel where she collapses into the role of early C20th woman who collapses into emotional chaos after being frightened (an annoyingly anti-feminist moment given the strength of Lucy and Maggie, a suffragette minor character who is very outspoken and powerful as a character, in the rest of the novel).  The growing horror and power of Carpathia comes from the change of the threat from that of nature to an unnatural one, and the inevitability of it; the infestation of the Carpathia is complete, and the effect of that on our characters' confidence is unmistakable and excellently portrayed, as is their realisation of just how real vampires are.

The characters of Carpathia are also well written.  Each of our three principal characters are intelligently and thoughtfully drawn, with a sensitivity for emotional detail and crisis that makes the romantic element all the stronger, and their falling out over it all the more effective.  Similarly, their strength is very believable, because they're strong despite being scared; Carpathia doesn't have the kind of emotionless hero who is simply brave, but nor does it have heroes who are terrified but act despite it without reason, instead being blessed by Forbeck with Lucy, Quin and Abe, a trio who are brave because it is what they feel they ought to be, or because of each other.  It's a real strength of the novel, because it makes it much more plausible; these are characters who feel human and alive.  That goes just as strongly for the principal vampires, Brody Murtagh and Dushko Dragovich; despite the full range of vampiric powers (Forbeck has clearly done his homework), they feel very human, motivated by human concerns and desires, simply altered in their scope and the nature of their species-loyalty by their nature.  It's brilliant writing, especially in Dushko, who is evil (a vampire, after all) but at the same time sympathetic.

If we are to see a slew of Titanic-related fiction in 2012, and I suspect we very much are, then I hope Forbeck's novel is indicative of what we can expect: intelligent, well-written and enjoyable fiction that doesn't take itself too seriously without descending into farce.  Carpathia is definitely a novel to watch out for.


Review based on an eARC provided by Angry Robot Books.  Carpathia will be published in the US and in ebook format on February 28th, and on March 1st in the rest of the world.

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