Science fiction and fantasy
by Matt Forbeck
In the distance the Carpathia is passing by on its journey to Europe, with a hold full of starving and stroppy vampires led by the bullyish Dushko. Brody Murtagh is a disgruntled passenger who resents his dull duty, resents getting packed off to Serbia, and craves a bit more fun in his life. But Dushko thinks he's a liability, and he's inclined to come down hard on Brody or anyone else who risks exposing their kind to humanity. In this novel we get to see both sides of the conflict between humans and the undead, so our sympathies are divided between them.
Even ships as luxurious and large as the Titanic provide a brilliantly claustrophobic atmosphere when they're surrounded by the freezing North Atlantic waters. So there's a sense that the characters have no means of escape and they'll have to deal with whatever horrors are coming their way, or die trying. The horrors in question are very much the old-school style vampires Bram Stoker would have recognised, complete with formidable supernatural powers tempered with a dislike of garlic. Then the main characters have the implacable power of nature to contend with, and together these threats make for an action-packed story. There aren't many big surprises in terms of the book's direction, once the main players are introduced: we know how things are going to get rough for the main characters, and they do. However the relationship between Quin, Lucy and Abe is interesting and the mixture of jealousy, love and the clash between women's rights and the men's protective instincts makes it engaging.
I enjoyed the way suspense works in this story. It's not a relentless disaster orgy of fangs, blood, and people leaping to their deaths or drowning in icy water. It's much more civilised, yet during the quieter passages I was on tenterhooks just as much as I was when the stakes came out.
The vampires in Carpathia are sly and vicious, but they're not quite as evil as they first appear. Similarly the rest of the story doesn't conform to its first impressions: it looks like it's working towards a bloodbath, but the end result has a little more class. The setting abounds with unfair class divisions next to glitzy privilege, which throws some of the characters' lack of concern and their assumptions that everything will stay the same into much sharper relief. However at heart this is a thrilling disaster story and bite carnival, with vampires that sizzle like sausages at the touch of a cross but keep coming back, and it's never too serious for its own good. This neck-ripping fun is proof, if you needed it, that sometimes the old ways are the best.
6th March 2012
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