REVIEW: The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate

The Official Description: A reimagining of Dracula’s voyage to England, filled with Gothic imagery and queer desire.

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.

Just the facts: Novella length retelling of Dracula from perspective of Queer Captain.

A Compelling and dark, queer retelling of Dracula. It’s more unclear than ever what the real monster is. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: The Route of Ice and Salt (La ruta del hielo y la sal) is a novella retelling of “Dracula” by José Luis Zárate and translated by David Bowles. This story was originally published in 1998, and as far as I can tell this is the first translation of Zárate’s work into English. He’s a well-known author in Mexico and known for his speculative/science fiction.

The choice of a re-telling of Dracula is very interesting. While the bones of the story remain the same, this novella focuses on the voyage of the Demeter. The ship is headed by a Captain (who remains unnamed) and is gay.

I suppose the entire story is a metaphor for what has gone on in the Captain’s life and what continues to happen to him. He is trapped on a ship with men he cannot touch and surrounded by relationships/ friendships he cannot partake of.

The story is split into the events from the log of the Demeter, the Captain’s POV and flashbacks to his youth. These perspectives weave together to create a visceral, dark and compelling tale about a man who is torn over who he is. There are portions of the story in which the descriptions of the boat are completely focussed on sensuality and equate the boat… the voyage and the crew to a larger erotic experience.

The writing is flowery at the beginning of the novella although this does settle a bit as the story progresses. At times, the descriptions are breath-taking, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether the descriptions are of terrifying incidents or mundane ones. I’m not familiar with the process of translation so I’m uncertain how much of the language style is in the original novella.

I think what I found most compelling was the internalized homophobia the Captain dealt with and the way that it manifested with respect to the threat that was on board the Demeter.

“At times, I wonder whether a concrete fear is better, whether that swath of deadly night lowering upon us is preferable to the ineffable nothing gnawing at our nerves. To the strange certainty that we have left a door open somewhere, an unwitting invitation to whatever awaits outside, stalking us.”

This is a fascinating retelling of a beloved tale. I would recommend it to anyone who interested in the more traditional horror stories.

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) internalized homophobia, abuse in past depicted in flashbacks, horror, rats

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate from Innsmouth Free Press via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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