100 Fathoms Below by Steven L. Kent
I bought the kindle version of 100 Fathoms Below after one of the authors (Nicholas Kaufmann) pitched it to me at a convention as “Vampires on a Submarine.” Sold! If there’s any type of monster on a sub, it’s a movie I’ll watch or a book I’ll read.
The authors did a tremendous amount of research with regard to military protocol and life aboard a US navy sub. Their attention to detail was excellent. If you enjoy stories that immerse you in military life, you will enjoy this book for that aspect alone.
Submarines didn’t launch on a single order; they launched with a dialogue. The submarine corps choreographed its procedures to the last detail. It was the officer of the deck who began the dialogue.
‘Bridge rigged for dive,’ Penwarden reported. ‘Last man down.’
I now know so much more about both the physical layout of submarines and the day to day coordinated effort of living in one and operating it. Doctors rarely enjoy medical thrillers because the authors get the details wrong. Lawyers shy away from reading legal thrillers for similar reasons. Put 100 Fathoms Below into the hands a naval vet and he’ll be hard-pressed to find fault with this story. The authors were determined to get all the details right. I think they succeeded.
The horror story aspect of the story? Interesting, to be sure. Who doesn’t love a good vampire story, and this one has the added bonus of happening in the inky blackness of the deep ocean, crammed inside a claustrophobic tube of groaning, creaking metal. But for all that, I struggled to feel any real dread or horror as I read this book. There were definitely several “omg, that is deeply unsettling” moments. The torpedo tubes, people. That’s all I’ll say. But, most of the time I felt somewhat emotionally detached from the story. Could be I’m emotionally dead inside, but the rising tension didn’t have me biting my fingernails. The horrific acts (the attacks, the killings, etc) were mostly handled “off the page.” I like to see, hear, feel, smell the moment when a monster attacks. Nothing too overtly gory, but more than what I was given in this story.
Bodine’s blood–that was what he smelled, the source of the sweet, enticing scent. Stubic hadn’t been hungry all day. Just the thought of eating had sickened him. But now, suddenly, he was hungry. So very hungry.
He reached for Bodine quickly, faster than he ever thought he could move.
That’s all you get, folks. The rest of the attack is left to our imagination. While I fully understand that nothing can scare us more than the things we can imagine, there are times when I don’t want things left up to my imagination. I want the author to walk me through the horror of an event–like a vampire’s first kill.
Another problem I had was that it wasn’t entirely clear who the main character was versus all the secondary characters. If you read the blurb for the book posted on Amazon or over on Goodreads, it hints at this lack of protagonist identity. Not that there wasn’t a main character. There was, but numerous secondary characters took up as much time and space and emotional weight on the page as did the protagonist. As a result, my attention felt too equally divided across too many characters. I couldn’t get deeply, emotionally invested in any of them.
100 Fathoms Below is definitely plot-driven, not character driven, but you know what? That’s okay. It’s a well written, fast-paced military thriller as much as it is a horror story. And really, don’t you want to know how one survives being trapped on a submarine, in total darkness with a vampire hunting you inside and the Russians hunting you outside? I’ll give you a hint. It doesn’t involve stakes, crosses, or holy water.
I’m more than comfortable recommending 100 Fathoms Below as a fun, quick horror read.
As always, thanks for stopping by and happy writing to you.
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