The highly anticipated second installment of the Black Tide Rising series did not disappoint with To Sail a Darkling Sea. John Ringo returns us to his eerily realistic world of post apocalyptic survival. Through action, humor, and the play of right and responsibility, Ringo brings us to a new battlefield- that of the zombie apocalpyse. Ringo entwines the reality of military life with the unique aspect of civilians just trying to survive, creating a beautiful world that makes anyone wonder how they would face the call to arms.
With human civilization annihilated by a biological zombie plague, a rag-tag fleet of yachts and freighters known as Wolf Squadron scours the Atlantic, searching for survivors. Within every abandoned liner and carrier lurks a potential horde, safety can never be taken for granted, and death and turning into one of the enemy is only a moment away.
Yet every ship and town holds the flickering hope of survivors. One and two from lifeboats, a dozen from a fishing village, a few hundred wrenched by fury and fire from a ship that once housed thousands…
Now Wolf Squadron must take on another massive challenge: clear the assault carrier USS Iwo Jima of infected before the trapped Marines and sailors succumb to starvation. If Wolf Squadron can accomplish that task, an even tougher trial awaits: an apocalyptic battle to win a new dawn for humanity. The war for civilization begins as the boats of the Wolf Squadron become a beacon of hope on a Darkling Sea.
I was one of the many who was waiting eagerly for the continuation of Ringo’s Black Tide Rising Series. An instant fan of Ringo’s masterful storytelling, I couldn’t wait to see what befell the characters and world. Ringo did not disappoint me. The greatest change between Under A Graveyard Sky and To Sail a Darkling Sea was the overall purpose of the characters. How does one thrive when they’re not quite sure they’ll survive yet? To Sail a Darkling Sea was the perfect in between novel, one that brought up its own questions and issues while reminding us that there is no safety post apocalypse.
As in its predecessor, I couldn’t help but enjoy the full cast of characters in To Sail a Darkling Sea. The cast is ever growing as the core family of four finds more survivors. As such, Ringo brought characters which we couldn’t help but hate, ones we all admired, and ones we were all suspicious of. There were several characters which stood out to me for different reasons. One was Olga, a Ukranian model who is a CIA reject making herself helpful in the zombie apocalypse. While I quite liked Olga due to her mix of knowing how to be funny, feminine and kick ass, I still noted that this exact character is becoming ever more prevalent. In the past month or so, I have encountered more than my fair share of polyglot model turned spies. With all of the characters being so beautifully realistic, she comes across as too much of a stereotype, likeable as she may be. The second character was much less remarkable but struck me as an interesting character because he is so utterly lost at his new place in society. A former Hollywood executive, he struggles with the fact that no one is there to serve him and his skill set isn’t in high demand. The last character which stood out to me was certainly meant to. This man not only gives an alias, but has an exorbitant amount of suspicious skills. I certainly look forward to seeing how all of these characters develop, a sheer testament to how interesting Ringo has made them.
There a lot of gems and a lot of things that irked me in To Sail a Darkling Sea. For instance, Faith, one of the initial main characters and a thirteen year old warrior, became a Marine. However, she led her group into storming a boat, stopping them so she could find a couture gown. Now don’t get me wrong. I understand and like the setup. However, not only did this not feel true to the character which was already established, the fallout from the action was a bit rife with sexism. Sure, I can forgive a thirteen year old girl for rolling her eyes and saying something like ‘Da, you just wouldn’t understand’. Instead, I take issue with the fact that the gender divide was played up so much in a stereotypical fashion. Why must a man not understand the monetary and artistic value of a couture gown? Why must every woman be interested in having their own dress? There are exceptions to every rule and I didn’t see these. This was so obvious due to the fact that Ringo has set up his strongest characters as women. It seemed like he was trying to show that despite their battle skills, they were still feminine. Unfortunately it was a bit of a misfire for me due to the stereotype.
I tried to look past the fact that Ringo made nearly every woman in the series pregnant rather than have a few of them unable to conceive, or fight off the advances of their lifeboat companions. Is it really so probable that no one would think of contraception in post apocalyptic society? I know I would and as any Walking Dead fan will point out, I’m not the only one. It is yet another example of Ringo’s harsh gender roles? It’s as if to make his leading ladies stronger, he must diminish the strength of others.
Though the previously mentioned choices annoyed me, the good aspects far outweighed the bad. Ringo is quite good at infusing his story with small details. For instance, there are new acronyms like a zam or zammie which delineates a zombie apocalypse moment or in current terms a wth moment. As the group of survivors gets larger, there are support groups for people of different nationalities and a decidedly black market turned legit scheme. While all of these were great, the thing that stood out to me the most was the focus on what it means to be responsible. This was worked in detail as characters found themselves being an officer in the military without any further training, having to deal with the possibility of leading their troops to death. Ringo showed a side to discipline that could relate to civilians and military alike, making the purpose and benefits clearer to all.
There are very few series as immersive and entertaining as Black Tide Rising series. Ringo draws you into a fully realized world of struggle and success. Characters are so realistic that you easily find yourself cheering for their small triumphs and feeling the weight of their obstacles. As with the last installment, To Sail a Darkling Sea has me waiting with baited breath for the next book, Islands of Rage and Hope. Without a doubt, this series is a must read for anyone who loves their zombies or battlefronts.