Carpathia by Matt Forbeck – Advance Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews Matt Forbeck’s next novel for Angry Robot Books, a part-romance, part-fantasy novel about the Titanic and vampires.
“If you thought that the sinking of the Titanic was the only disaster that night then think again for the truly scary vampires are now back on the scene.” ~ The Founding Fields
People who know me through the Bolthole and elsewhere know that for the last few years my reading has almost exclusively consisted of Black Library fiction. While that may sound fantastic at first, keep in mind that I have been willfully ignorant of an extremely diverse literary world out there for all that time. So with the goal in mind to diversify my reading, I headed off to Angry Robot and picked up Matt Forbeck’s Carpathia as my first read.
Verdict: Matt Forbeck is bloody brilliant.
First off, the novel is obviously a big change from Space Marines and Eldar and Dwarfs and Dark Elves. Second, it is such an easy novel to get into and lose yourself. When I started reading it, I had gone through almost sixty pages before I realised that I had missed my train stop. And then the fact that this is a tale of events starting with the unfortunate sinking of the Titanic (no disparagement meant towards the event itself) and that it features the vampires we grew up reading about is just gold.
The trio of Lucy Seward, Quin Harker and Abe Holmwood are the stars of the story, three friends taking a journey of their lifetime, headed towards promising futures for all of them. There is a love triangle involved of course, for what truly good story about the Titanic would be without one? Matt explores the relationship between the childhood friends very nicely with Quin being the friend who has always loved Lucy while she and Abe are the couple. There are cliches involved of course but what sets apart Matt’s protagonists is that he isn’t afraid to make maximum use of them. They may be cliches yes but they are taken to their full, expectant potential and beyond.
Going back to such a simple world and back in time to such a significant event was in ways quite cathartic for me. It also happens that I read a couple Young Adult level Titanic stories back in seventh grade (least I think they were YA, its honestly been a good 12 years since!) and being reminded of my childhood is always a great plus point for a novel. Invigorating even I would say. I was quite the voracious reader then, even more so than I am now, and those Titanic novels (I regretfully am unable to remember their names) were at the time some of the best prose I had read. The fact that the count is now 3/3 on subject matter is another plus. Maybe I should hunt down those novels huh?
The novel itself has a very good pace and the flow is quite smooth. There is almost no clutter of view points and events and there is no hardship in following the plot either. There was a moment however when I become confused by certain things happening and being mentioned “on screen” but fortunately Matt himself set me right. Turned out I had been reading a little too fast in my excitement and had missed a certain reference earlier on which explained these events.
But back to the Vampires. As someone who has read Bram Stoker’s Dracula previously, Matt’s vampires were quite fun to read and quite scary in some scenes too although with all the tension going in the novel the effect can sometimes be a little diluting. But fear not. Whenever it looks like the scene is about to wind down too early, Matt ratchets up the tension once again. You really have no choice but to keep on reading.
And I am sure people would agree that that’s a good thing right?
You get vampires being staked, being burnt alive, slapped with crucifixes and on and on. In fact, while reading Carpathia I had a rather strong urge to go watch the Underworld and Blade movies. I have so far resisted but as they say in Star Trek: “Resistance is futile”. That’s not to say that any vampire scenes involving violence are “on screen” gory though. That kind of stuff is happily kept mostly “off screen” because otherwise it would just detract from the rest of the novel.
There are a lot of the other things going on than just vampires feeding after all. Our trio of brave heroes are busy surviving the sinking of the Titanic and looking for said vampires while a vampire civil war is brewing quite hotly. And when it all comes along quite explosively towards the end you can’t help but punch the air, grin like an idiot and then get back to reading.
There is a lot of tension, great thrilling action scenes, lots of mystery and deceit and most of all, an incredible variety of characters. Matt definitely makes great use of everyone from the Captains of the two ships, first officers, deckhands, sailors, the vampires themselves, our trio of heroes, and a lot of the passengers as well. One of the ways in which this variety really hits home is how Matt works in the themes of “age versus experience” and, to a degree and in a sort of roundabout way, “book smart versus street smart”. The reality is of course shattered when the protagonists and their allies find out that that Bram Stoker’s fantastical novel was no mere fantasy but could have had a foundation in truth.
Another thing going for both Matt and Carpathia here is that he really uses the wide variety of a vampire’s supernatural powers and drive home the point repeatedly in a fun way without it coming off as overbearing. After all, they have these abilities so why the heck not use them, eh? Classic vampires to the hilt indeed.
All in all, for an absolutely amazing read, I rate Carpathia a solid 9/10 and now that I have been introduced to Matt’s work, I am going to go about delving some more into reading his wider body of work. Incidentally, I found out just the other day that he also has written the Blood Bowl novels for Black Library. Talk about me diversifying!
And yes, I would definitely recommend the novel to everyone, no matter what genre you really prefer. You need to read this novel for the sheer pleasure of it. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.