ARC Review: The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate
Translated by David Bowles and published in English for the first time, The Route of Ice and Salt is Gothic horror at its finest. Full of nightmare fuel and a slow-paced descent into a blurred reality, I highly recommend this novella to fans of the Gothic horror genre!
About The Route of Ice and Salt
Publisher: Innsmouth Free Press | Release Date: January 19, 2021 | Pages: 143
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher
It’s an ordinary assignment, nothing more. The cargo? Fifty boxes filled with Transylvanian soil. The route? From Varna to Whitby. The Demeter has made many trips like this. The captain has handled dozens of crews.
He dreams familiar dreams: to taste the salt on the skin of his men, to run his hands across their chests. He longs for the warmth of a lover he cannot have, fantasizes about flesh and frenzied embraces. All this he’s done before, it’s routine, a constant, like the tides.
Yet there’s something different, something wrong. There are odd nightmares, unsettling omens and fear. For there is something in the air, something in the night, someone stalking the ship.
The cult vampire novella by Mexican author José Luis Zárate is available for the first time in English. Translated by David Bowles and with an accompanying essay by noted horror author Poppy Z. Brite, it reveals an unknown corner of Latin American literature.
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gore, recollections of homophobia and killing of gay character, use of g*psy slur, repression of sexuality, self harm, sexual imagery, suicide
gay main character
My Review of The Route of Ice and Salt
First published in 1998 in Spanish, The Route of Ice and Salt follows the unnamed captain of Demeter, the schooner which brought Dracula from Bulgaria to England who was found dead and lashed to the wheel holding a rosary in Dracula. An epistolary told through the captain’s personal diary – and some of the official logs – details the journey and disappearances of his men.
“What creatures, beings and spectres have been imagined, which come from death to feed on the living? I sleep well, thinking of nightmares.”
In a way, The Route of Ice and Salt is a story within a story insofar as the prologue is a fictionalization of the author coming up with the threads to this tale, drawing inspiration from the rain. It’s basically a look into the author’s mind while plotting out a novel, and it’s a fascinating way to set the tone of the novella, even beginning the threads of obsession before the captain’s logs take over.
“But what I am writing is a voyage of the damned. And if I make it a story about decreasing? What if I snatch away the security and tranquility of the captain?”
Our nameless captain’s diary sets the tone of hunger, lust, and wanting to taste the salty flesh of his crewmates. This is quite an erotic read, in case that is something you typically steer away from. But the tone of the diary shifts as the ill-fated voyage continues and the line between reality and dream blurs.
David Bowles did an amazing job with this translation. The writing is atmospheric and all-encompassing; the narrative’s word choice builds tension as the story progresses, oozing off of the page and into my pores. This is a book to be experienced, not one to be picked apart. The pace is slow and may prove to be a challenge for some readers not used to Gothic horror, but this book does an amazing job of building the tension and blurring the line of reality.
“To sleep is to abandon oneself to darkness.”
You can feel the narrator’s obsession in the narrative, oozing with desire and longing. But slowly the narrative tone begins to shift as the conception of reality becomes blurred. The captain’s logs convey a growing sense of unease and loss of reality. The book also delivers on the horror with some perfect nightmare fuel for you and the tension builds. The captain forcing himself to stay awake to avoid the dreams. Excellent execution of blending dreams with reality to the point that even I was confused about what was real or not.
“[W]hat if the last gift of light is the sight of something that belongs to naught but the night? What if death is more merciful than the appearance of whatever should come for our flesh?”
Queer desire and the thirst for the salt on the skin juxtaposed with the vampire’s thirst for blood. Themes of rot and decay of the ship parallel the literal death of the crewmates (and rats). This is an ambitious piece of literary work which can be delved deeply into if the reader chooses.
“Pleasure and fear sometimes resemble each other greatly.”
Spooky, haunting, foreboding: I cannot recommend this novella more highly!
Have you read The Route of Ice and Salt or do you plan to?
What are some of your favorite works in Gothic Horror?
Let’s go on another adventure together!