Vampires and Sailing and Queer Stories OH MY: A review of The Route of Ice and Salt

Review:

The Route of Ice & Salt

By José Luis Zárate as translated by David Bowles

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Horror/Speculative

QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes 

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes

Main Character of Color: No

Bechdel Test: No

Summary: In this epic reimagining of Dracula, the captain of a doomed ship, the Demeter, sails towards England not knowing that it carries the dreaded Count Dracula aboard. As the captain struggles with his own demons, things aboard his beloved ship become increasingly perilous.

A Little Bit of a Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader copy (ARC) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The fact that this was an ARC in no way changes my review or how I felt about the book.

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

Raise your hand if you had to read Dracula in high school or at any point in your education? For those of you that raised your hand, how many of you recall the ship with the captain chained to the helm? It’s fine if you don’t, I don’t think I did until I started reading this book. It’s not a big part of the story and little is known of the captain or his crew. This, you can imagine, makes it prime real estate for a retelling. But where the original Dracula only vaguely hinted at themes of homosexuality, The Route of Ice & Salt dives head first. The result is a novella about monsters within and monsters without, about what makes a person a hero and what makes them a villain. It is a dark and dangerous tale. So let’s get to it.

The story kicks off with the reader being introduced to the captain, our narrator and protagonist. We see him struggling with his desires to be more than just a captain to his men. We hear about how he craves their attention in bed and, yet, refuses outright to act on these feelings. This reluctance is explained when we learn that his last serious lover was the victim of a horrific hate crime at the hands of the unhappy townsfolk. The result is that the captain now sees his desires as monstrous, deadly, and best avoided.

But as the voyage takes off and increasingly strange things happen aboard the Demeter, the captain must soon confront a true evil. It is while the crew begins to vanish and  Dracula begins to emerge from the shadows that the captain understands what true monstrosity is. Here is the theme, the heart of this story. So deeply has the captain internalized his own homophobia that it takes seeing this vampire slaughter men without remorse to realize that his sin is nothing compared to this. In fact, it is no sin at all.

Queerness has often been equated with villainousness and evil before. The very first vampire novel was sapphic in nature. Here, though, is a response to those stories that points the finger away from the queer characters. It reminds the reader that loving others completely is the opposite of what vampires and other monsters do to their prey. Queer love is made pure in The Route of Ice & Salt through the trials and terrors of the monster aboard. 

Ultimately, this story asks us to challenge what we think of when we think of monsters. It begs us to think of our own desires, our own sexualities as something pure and good in a world full of things that would destroy or soil it. It is truly remarkable and amazing that this book exists in the world, and I’m glad beyond measure that its translation in English will be hitting bookstores in early 2021.

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Route of Ice & Salt? Leave a comment telling me your favorite classic horror monster. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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