Novels that draw from historical events can be tricky to manage. Unless you’re writing an alternate history novel, you have to be careful to weave your story in and around the actual facts. And any historical event that’s well known enough to be used as the basis for a story is well known enough that readers will catch you if you mess up. Carpathia, unfortunately, mangles the aftermath of the Titanic sinking.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“It’s Titanic meets 30 Days of Night.
When the survivors of the Titanic are picked up by the passenger steamship Carpathia, they thought their problems were over.
But something’s sleeping in the darkest recesses of the ship. Something old.Something hungry.”
Okay, first things first: this novel is billed as a historical novel. The author even says so in his acknowledgements. As such, I would expect the story to align very closely with what actually happened. In real life, the Carpathia had a fairly uneventful steam back to New York over the course of three days or so. In this book, Forbeck completely disregards that bit of info in favor of something much more extreme.
Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem with the idea of vampires on the Carpathia. I would have liked the story more, however, if the vampires had remained mostly unknown to the majority of the passengers and crew. Not only would that have aligned the story more closely with actual events, but it would have allowed for a sense of creeping horror as only a few characters (fictional ones) have any knowledge of what’s hiding in the ship’s hold. There are moments of this midway through the novel, but they don’t last very long.
Frankly, I don’t think that this story needed to be set aboard the Carpathia at all, other than for the recognition factor. I’m not even sure that the author felt the need to set it there either. For the most part, once the survivors are on board the Carpathia, Forbeck abandons all pretenses that the story has anything to do with the Titanic or its passengers. Early in the novel, there are mentions of famous personages who were on the boat, such as Molly Brown and Colonel Gracie. As soon as the rescue is over, they vanish, never to be seen again, and not because they are vampire food. They’re just not mentioned past a certain point. This story could have taken place on any boat and it probably would have worked better.
This novel’s main problem lies in suspension of disbelief. I couldn’t believe that vampires were swimming in the frigid waters pulling people under. I couldn’t believe that hordes of vampires were sequestered in one hold with enough victims to feed them all during the voyage and nobody noticed. I couldn’t believe that larger-than-life people could fade into total obscurity once they were rescued. And most of all, I couldn’t believe the way the novel ended (although I won’t spoil that for you).
Forbeck had some interesting ideas, but playing with such a well known incident ultimately was his downfall as far as execution was concerned. I think that the Titanic disaster had quite enough horror without vampiric bloodbaths thrown into the mix. Carpathia has some interesting moment, but it can’t pull them together enough to make a cohesive novel.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on April 13, 2012.