Vampirates: Dead Deep / Tide of Terror

Vampirates - Tide of Terror

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Vampirates is a fantasy/horror series by Justin Somper. It is set in a future where the seas have risen, covering most of the Earth and causing a resurgence of piracy. The first novel, Demons of the Ocean, was published in 2005 and was followed by Dead Deep (2007), Tide of Terror (2007), Blood Captain (2008), Black Heart (2009), Empire of Night (2010) and Eternal War (2011). For the purpose of this review, I will be primarily looking at Tide of Terror.

Set three months after the events of Demons of the Ocean, Connor and Grace have settled into a life aboard the pirate vessel, the Diablo. While Connor embraces his destiny as a pirate, Grace is more reserved. She still misses the vampires that she has left behind – particularly her friend Lorcan – and is torn between wanting to stay with her brother and her desire to go back to the Vampirate ship.

When a raid on a rival ship goes horribly wrong and a pirate is killed, Grace fears that Connor will one day meet the same fate. With the help of Cheng Li, she manages to arrange for Connor to visit at the famed Pirate Academy in the hope that he would chose to remain there in relatively safety.

However, far across the ocean, trouble is brewing. Grace has started having visions of the Vampirate ship and sees that more and more vampires are rebelling against the Captain, deciding that they would rather kill indiscriminately than maintain a passive relationship with humans. To make matters worse, she learns that Lorcan has been refusing to drink blood since her departure and is gradually growing weaker. Seeing her friends in trouble strengthens Grace’s resolve. She knows that she must find a way to help them. The only question is how.

Before I talk more about Tide of Terror, I should probably briefly mention its precursor, Dead Deep. This is a short novella that was originally published for World Book Day. The story largely focuses on Connor, Bart and Jez as they set off to enjoy a relaxing shore leave but find themselves fighting for their lives against vicious mermaids. That’s about all there is to it. It’s not a particularly fast paced or interesting story and (rather disappointingly) hardly features Grace or the Vampirates. Although it sits between the first two novels of the series, it is intended to be a stand-alone story. It unfortunately does not entirely succeed in this regard.

Firstly, it introduces the character of Jez Stukeley. Jez is not a character that appears in Demons of the Ocean, making his true debut at the start of Tide of Terror, yet to pick up Dead Deep you would never realise this. He appears with no introduction as though he is already an important part of the story and this confused me no end. His jarring lack of introduction made me wonder if I’d somehow read the stories out of sequence but alas, no, it just is a really odd way to introduce an import character.

Secondly, the ending of Dead Deep kind of implies that Sidorio, the villain of the series, has recruited the mermaids as part of his ever growing crew of rogue Vampirates. However, this thread does not carry over into the next book at all. Tide of Terror begins with Sidorio alone, having not even begun gathering his crew, and so made me wonder why Somper would chose to end the novella in this way if it was not going to be a plot point going forward. Although it was only a quick read, Dead Deep seemed particularly pointless and I would only recommend seeking it out if you’re a huge fan of the rest of the series and are desperate to read more. Fortunately, Dead Deep is not compulsory reading and so don’t let it put you off reading the two novels that flank it.

To return to the main focus of this review, Tide of Terror is a marked improvement on Demons of the Ocean. Because this novel is twice as long as its prequel, Somper has a lot more space in which to expand his world and develop the characters within it. As I said in my review of the first novel, one of the major flaws of that story that world was only described in the briefest of terms. Demons of the Ocean felt more as though it was a brief introduction to the world of Vampirates, rather than full immersion.

While Demons of the Ocean was largely set aboard the two ships, Tide of Terror allows Connor to set foot on land and we finally get a real taste of what it means to be a pirate in this world. The division between Molucco Wrathe’s romanticised swashbuckling and the strategic efficiency of the Pirate Federation has now evolved to a major plot thread and it’s every bit as fascinating as I hoped it would be. It’s interesting that the novel never tries to vilify one school of thought – both have their own pros and cons and so the reader can actively relate with Connor’s internal conflict as he is forced to choose which lifestyle he wants to follow.

The human characters also are given plenty of room to grow. While they were vibrant and memorable in the first novel, in this one they are truly fleshed out. It’s interesting to note how the surroundings and company that a character keeps affect the way that they interact with others, making them seem a lot more like real people. This is particularly noticeable in Cheng Li, whose kindness towards Grace contrasts with her somewhat questionable intent for Connor. We also get many different interpretations of Molucco’s attitude towards pirating throughout the story as every character holds a slightly different opinion towards him, ranging from devotion to utter loathing. While he seemed to be kind and considerate in Demons of the Ocean, Molucco’s inflexibility and disregard for the safety of his crew adds a layer of selfishness to his character.

The biggest improvement to the story is the character of Grace. While Connor still is the more lively main character, Tide of Terror finally gives Grace an opportunity to live up to her reputation as the clever twin. While she spent most of Demons of the Ocean being almost unbearably dim, in this novel she shows her intelligence through the fact that she perceives the danger that Connor is in long before he does, as well as sets the wheels in motion to ensure his safety. Her character grows in strength, not through her actions, but from her sheer determination to be reunited with Lorcan and her other Vampirate friends, no matter what obstacles are placed in her way. Grace’s inner strength makes her an incredibly likable character and I can’t wait to see how she develops in the next novel.

Unfortunately, Tide of Terror still has some severe problems. Its increased length also leads to a lot of superfluous sections which do nothing more than pad out the plot. The early chapters are full of exposition, virtually retelling the entirety of Demons of the Ocean, and the mid-section is full of lengthy descriptions of Connor’s classes. Yes, that’s right, there is a school for young pirates in this world. It was mentioned briefly in the last book but now we see it in all of its glory. A typical British school system for 7-17 year olds, starting its students with lessons in knot-tying and painting pictures of sabres and gradually building them up to sword fighting and classes in practical piracy. While this whimsical concept lends itself well to schools of witchcraft and wizardry, the same idea does not seem to sit well with pirates. Pirates are supposed to be ruthless and brutal. To show them being trained during school days, with lunch breaks and study periods, is just too ridiculous for words.

The story also doesn’t really build to anything. It has a loose climax for Connor’s story, in which he comes to his decision as to whether he remains with the Diablo or becomes a permanent pupil at the Pirate Academy. The threat of Sidorio, though referenced at several points throughout the novel, also never really builds to anything. One piece of off camera violence aside, he doesn’t really do a lot in the story other than exposit towards how nasty he will be. Actions speak louder than words, and as Sidorio did not really come into contact with any of the primary cast he never truly felt like he was a danger to them.

The largest disappointment, however, was that Grace’s plot line never gets a satisfying pay off. She spends the entire story trying to return to the Vampirate ship and the novel ends moments after she succeeds. Also, despite the fact that she was repeatedly told by Darcy, Lorcan and the Vampirate Captain that she should not return, the reason for this was largely glossed over. I assumed that this plot thread was building to some big surprise reveal but this was not the case. We did not even really discover why Lorcan was starving himself. It seemed that the vampires just felt the need to be dramatic for the sake of being dramatic.

This unfortunately meant that the supernatural aspect of the novel seemed even more tacked on than it did in Demons of the Ocean. While the human characters received plenty of development, the Vampirates are becoming increasingly less rounded as the story progresses. We discovered nothing new about them in this novel and I felt that, for the large part, they could have been replaced with ordinary human characters without impacting the story much at all. There are indications that the Vampirates will play a more important role in Blood Captain and I really hope that this is the case. For a book that advertises itself as a story in which pirates meet vampires, the vampires seem to be pretty thin on the ground.

I’m aware that this review is running a little long now and so I’ll wrap it up. Although Tide of Terror has problems in its pacing and characterisation of the vampire characters, it is still a unique concept and boasts a surprisingly well developed human cast. It is certainly a better novel than Demons of the Ocean and I hope that the series continues to improve in its next instalment.

Vampirates: Dead Deep can be purchased as an eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

Vampirates: Tide of Terror can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Vampirates: Blood Captain | Arkham Reviews

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