Top critical review
Vampires + Time Travel + Titanic = ...
August 10, 2014
The story opens in Ireland in 2012 with a bit of scene setting. Apolline is there on an assignment to take out a vampire, but with the impending centennial of the disaster, things are pretty Titanic-centric in Belfast, the city where the Titanic was built. At this point the book is rather apologetic about Apolline’s vast knowledge of the Titanic and it got old fast. There’s even this quote: “After all, it was the Titanic disaster that prompted all the maritime safety laws to be amended so that all ships had to have enough lifeboats for everyone on board, and all wireless rooms had to stay active 24 hours a day, not to mention the establishment of the International Ice Patrol. (I didn’t normally know that much detail about the disaster, but with it being the 100th anniversary, there had been a lot of documentaries on TV lately, especially during my short stay in Belfast where it was even bigger news.)” This, however, does not make sense. Especially when you take into consideration that later in the book Apolline is shown to have a vast library of both books and DVDs about the Titanic – the 1997 James Cameron movie being her all-time favourite – and her knowledge of the disaster supposedly rivals that of the tour givers at the Titanic exhibition. Why, then, are there so many passing remarks about her Titanic-trivia being due to the anniversary rather than just her interest in the events of the disaster? This did get a bit frustrating at times because it felt like the author was trying to excuse her character having so much knowledge about something she’s obviously interested in.
Things soon move to the Titanic in 1912. Rather than being transported there in body, Apolline is, instead, inhabiting the body of an ancestor, Noelle, who was actually on the Titanic. Being of a long line of vampire hunters who do not tend to reach old age, she figures that she has been sent there to complete and assignment that her ancestor was unable to complete before disaster struck and the ship went down.
Apolline has a “watcher” who informs her of her assignments. She’s never met him and he only communicates by mail. She calls him Giles in reference to the Buffy show. When she arrives in 1912, she discovers that the same Giles was communicating with her ancestor. Unfortunately, after this point Giles is pretty much dropped from the story and his role in everything, exactly what he is, etc. – none of it is ever brought up and explored again.
In fact, the whole vampire plot itself seemed rather contrived at times and a mere device to get a present-day character in this specific historical setting. The idea that Apolline is a vampire hunter is used as the explanation for why time travel is also possible, both being outside of the realm of the ordinary. The vampires themselves don’t actually play much of a role in the story and don’t tend to show up very often. Even the final climax on the Titanic between vampire and hunter was over so quickly that if you blinked you’d have missed it. I would have preferred more of an impact from that particular scene.
But as I said, that wasn’t the crux of the story. The crux was the exploration of the ship itself as well as the social mores at that time from the eyes of a modern character. There was a bit too much attention paid to the clothing. After all, they did get changed at least three times per day in that day and age and Apolline describes her outfits each time she puts on a new one. I know some readers do like to have clothes described in detail as that sort of thing helps them to build a better picture in their own heads, but I’m not one of them. I consider clothes to be an unnecessary distraction detail that detracts from the story itself. Other than that, I was completely fascinated by the picture painted here. It’s true that a lot of the time stories about the Titanic tend to concentrate on either the opulence of first class or the conditions in third class. Very few books explore how it was for a second class character. This book is one of those few that choose to take a look at second class and the people who were travelling there.
The author incorporated a lot of people who really were on the Titanic. I think only the two main characters – Apolline and her fellow vampire hunter / romantic interest Alex – are fictional. She treated each of these characters with the respect that the memory of a real individual deserves.
Alex himself made for a wonderful hero. He’s the first other vampire hunter that Apolline has ever met and he was a worthy romantic interest. He was obviously smitten with Apolline, even when it gets to the point where she feels that she has to share her unbelievable truths – that the ship will soon sink and most of those on the liner will not survive. He didn’t know what to make of it all, but he still felt drawn to this unusual woman.
It was obvious that it was going to be a bittersweet ending. At one point, Alex says “I’d follow you anywhere, even to the future.” I think I latched on to that line more than I should have. After all, the characters have no knowledge of how this time travel thing works, so how would he go about following the woman he’s fallen in love with from his own time to her time? The author works this in a very unexpected way. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as when I latch onto a romantic interest, I very rarely budge enough to accept another one, even in spite of the links between the two that are present in this case. I recognise the sweetness behind how things are wrapped up, but at the same time I’m not sold about it.
The Titanic sinks around the 70% mark of the story and the final 30% is about Apolline getting to grips with how her life has changed with this experience. She accompanies her neighbour and original crush (before she went back in time) to a Titanic exhibition about the disaster. At the end of the tour, the passengers are listed with each one marked as having survived or lost their life on the 15th April 1912. This section of the story is extremely poignant. I felt completely torn apart by it as it made me stop and think about some of the points that are brought up. What is said there is true, very true, and it makes me sad that sometimes we overlook the human tragedy to focus on the mystery of the disaster instead. All those who died were real humans who lived real lives and who lost them. They deserve to be remembered but they also deserve to be allowed to rest in peace.