Cover Image: The Route of Ice and Salt

The Route of Ice and Salt

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Member Reviews

The book was not at all what I had expected.
As a Dracula fan, I was particularly curious, especially after reading the foreword by one of my favourite authors.
I had not been aware of the historical significance of this book for the LGBTQ scene in Mexico, but this point is important to understand the book better. 
The story is not so much a narrative as a dark metaphor for hunger and desire, sometimes indirect, sometimes very explicit. The omnipresence of sexual content may disturb some readers.
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The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate is dark and full of intense, creeping dread. It was completely unexpected and hauntingly beautiful. Zárate takes readers on a journey through the eyes of the Demeter’s captain, a homosexual man struggling to survive in a world that would destroy him and battling his own internalized homophobia. The tense psychological war that’s waged in the captain’s mind as his ship is isolated at sea is breathtaking. Zárate blends and parallels that internal struggle with the monstrous urges of the vampire hidden aboard the ship. As strange things continue to happen onboard and as crew members begin to disappear, the horror of the story only deepens. Readers are treated to some of the classic vampire lore, like the creeping fog, the sense of some unseen observer, and creatures lurking in the dark. The novella also includes a wonderful intro that discusses the connection between homosexuality and vampirism and should not be missed. Overall, this book was brilliant, beautifully written, and perfect for fans of Gothic horror.
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2 stars. Interesting concept and I appreciate what this books has done at time when it was dangerous to do so, but I didn't always care for the writing and the main character was disgusting (which generally doesn't bother me I love books like Exquisite Corpse). Something just didn't click for me like everyone else. Review to come.

Due to being a high school English teacher, I am often behind on writing reviews. Here is a summary of my initial thoughts.
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Brilliant. I wish I'd known it back in 1998, when published in Mexico: it would have been a cult classic for me too. As queer people vampires were kind of thrust down our throat, but Zárate takes the analogy more seriously. He refuses to identify, as his 2020 makes plain: 'Back then, it seems, everyone loved vampires. They said, imagine yourself the lion amongst the sheep. But I looked at my fluffy wool and told myself it was dangerous to love assassins.' His gay captain of the Demeter faces pitchforks himself, and struggles against his internalised sense of monstrosity as he fights free of the monster. I loved it, and alas, it would have been so meaningful for me... better late than never.
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The Route of Ice and Salt
“Anyone could be considered a monster. And monsters were assassinated with impunity.” -The Route of Ice and Salt 
The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate (and translated from Spanish into English by David Bowles) is a poetic and haunting novella about the story of a sea captain struggling with his closeted homosexuality, told through the events of Dracula’s transport to England. The captain is leading a small crew on the Demeter charged with delivering mysterious boxes of dirt. The captain is battling with his homosexuality, but his thoughts quickly turn to something that seems off on the Demeter. The schooner’s rats act oddly, and soon, crewmembers disappear. What’s happening on the Demeter, and can the captain stop it before it’s too late? 
The Route of Ice and Salt is a fantastic story. Zárate builds suspense flawlessly, and despite how creepy and scary the novella is, it isn’t too graphic. He manages to combine poetic language and horror to create a work that is terribly beautiful (or beautifully terrible?). 
Consider this quote: “Without hesitation, he chose the black face of the drowned, a mouth unhinged by despair, hands that tear bloody grooves in a throat closed forever by the sea.” Perhaps it’s because the original text was written in Spanish, but having the adjectives come after the nouns makes the impact that much scarier. Rather than imagining an unhinged mouth, readers picture a mouth that is then unhinged, making the reader’s mind commit the violence. (If your Spanish is good enough, you may want to try reading the original novella in Spanish. If I were capable of doing more in Spanish than talking about my weekend and asking how much things cost, I would absolutely read it.)
Bowles’ beautiful translation of the novella took diligence and care, as every word is purposeful and the vivid imagery was clearly retained from Zárate’s original work. Though this is a novella, much of it is poetic, and it may not be the quickest read; expect to reread certain elements multiple times to understand the true meaning of the text.
The Route of Ice and Salt is a haunting tale about our pasts, hunger, and if we can escape who we truly are. Bowles’ translation of The Route of Ice and Salt is one not to be missed by Dracula fans or anyone craving beautifully written horror.
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The novella isn't terribly scary other than having to do with Dracula, and acts as more of a museum piece from a time where, regardless of how tough it is to be an out queer person in Mexico today, it was significantly more difficult. The Route of Ice and Salt was originally published in the 90s in Mexico, where it didn't do terribly well at first but became a cult classic among fans of contemporary Mexican horror writing. The novella reimagines the doomed captain of the empty ship that arrives in London carrying Dracula as an extremely repressed gay man who lusts after his crewmen, which the novella works to draw a parallel to a vampire's need for human bodies to consume the blood of. Your mileage on this analogy may vary. The Route of Ice and Salt is a poetic and dreamy exploration of queer sexuality in an unfriendly world but may be too poetic for its own good. When the prose is limited to the captain's inner thoughts, the novella evokes how an artistic soul's mind operates and it really shines. When plot is actually happening, however, it's almost indecipherable. The writing, dreamy as it is, is without metaphor. It is very direct, perhaps an effect of translating the manuscript from Spanish to English. If there were figures of speech or idioms used in the original text, they were lost. While there are moments of violence, a level of ambient unease and a few vampires, I would not call this much of a horror story as it simply isn't very scary. It's a margin-note within a horror story, but it is not itself horrifying.
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The Route of Ice and Salt.

[Blurb goes here]

This book was originally published in Mexico more than twenty years ago. Today it's considered a 'cult' novel. Jose Luis Zarate's writing is akin to poetry, the beautiful way in which he describes feelings, landmarks, places, people and objects, is simply breathtaking. Zarate creates a masterful tale looking through the eyes of the Demeter's Captain, a man in a constant fight against himself. The Demeter a cargo ship is heading for Northern England. Its cargo none other than Count Dracula, described only as a dark silhouette, a shadow, a predator in the prowl. The Captain narrates the journey while fighting against his own desires, torturing himself, thinking about his past mistakes and present situation. He's a closeted homosexual, 'do i deserve to live?' He wonders, ultimately comparing his carnal desires and actions to those of the dangerous figure lurking in the dark. Things escalate aboard the Demeter as the voyage progreses, the mundane sea route from Romania's coasts to its destination port, turns into a fight for survival. As one after another, the crew of the Demeter, start to disappear. With little to no dialogues, this Gothic horror story is worth reading more than once.

Thank you for the advanced copy!
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=The Route of Ice and Salt examines a subplot in Stoker's Dracula- Dracula’s voyage from Transylvania to Northern England on board The Demeter- to craft a fascinating narrative of its own. This Mexican novel was published in 1998 and, though some aspects of the novel feel quite outdated to my current standards of queer literature, so much of it remains subversive. Zarate brings the latently homoerotic and colonial/imperialist overtones of Dracula to the forefront with this novel, which imagines the captain of the ill-fated Demeter as a closeted gay man. The captain navigates the voyage to England with the same shrewd skillfulness with which he must navigate the dangers of 19th century homophobia, imperialist conquest, and life-threatening toxic masculinity.

A study of piracy and maritime culture quickly proves that seamen often had a complicated, but surprisingly affirmative attitude to gay desire and even gay unions- after all, matelotage is often understood, albeit imperfectly, as an early form of gay marriage between sailors. The Demeter is no safe space. The captain embeds a repressed sexual desire in everything he does- how he chooses his crew, how he regards them, their dress codes, every carefully calculated touch. It's in this attention to sexual desire that the novel both flourishes and falters- the vampire genre begs us to investigate the relationship between desire and destruction, lust and consumption, etc. Zarate jumps to the task. The end result is a narrative that is extremely sexually charged, even vulgar- I applaud them to some extent, even if I found that Zarate off teetered to the point of excess when it came to the captain's hypersexuality. On one hand, I'm grateful that this novel doesn't sanitize gay sexuality or what a closeted man who, effectively, works in service of imperialist conquest would realistically think like and behave- Zarate treats us to a few moments in which the Captain's sexual interests border on the immoral, the racist, even the somewhat pedophilic when it comes to a brief mention of the young boys and girls who work as sex workers to traveling voyagers. It's disturbing. It should be. Nobody doing the work of this captain should be anything short of grotesque in some respects.

Nonetheless, Zarate regards the Captain as fully human. In a world in which there is no language for gay affirmation, internalized homophobia, and the link, the Captain is a gay man functioning to the best of his ability in a world that will, one way or another, destroy him. The emotional plot of the novel investigates his internal journey towards a central question: does he, a gay man, deserve to be destroyed?

The actual plot- the fate of the Demeter and the strange occurrences that escalate to a maddening haunting- was genuinely captivating. I found myself absolutely immersed in the tension developing on the ship and I found Zarate's engagement with Stoker's Dracula to be incredibly effective and tasteful. He knows just how much to reveal, just how far to go- Count Dracula here is, in some respects, the shark in Spielberg's Jaws: the power and menace of his presence is owed so much to how little we actually ever see him.

Overall, a fascinating read and a satisfying demonstration of how our readings and reimaginings of Gothic and Victorian horror flourish best when we're brave enough to bring the unspeakable subtext to the surface in ways the canon could not. Salt
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When I first began the Route of Ice and Salt I wasn't sure what to expect. The first couple of pages confused me but I soon found my feet and galloped through this dark and haunting tale. 

The Route of Salt and Ice may not be a long tale but it has lingered with me and packed a punch when I was reading. It is the tale of Dracula's voyage across the Sea to England and we see this from the Captain of the Demeter's perspective. As the Demeter makes her voyage to England strange dark things start to happen on the isolated ship. 

I highly recommended The Route of Ice and Salt, it was nothing like I was expecting and I loved it. It is at times unsettling, haunting but the writing is beautiful and takes you straight to the isolated ship that no one can escape from. I am very grateful that this book came to my attention, I am not sure I would have found it without David Bowles translation. Thank you Innsmouth Free Press for translating.
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A great take on an old classic.  By now, you're most likely already familiar with the plot - the Demeter will be bringing a strange cargo, boxes of earth, from Bulgaria to England - presumably for research.  A small crew will man the Demeter, not knowing that it would be their last voyage.  

Taking a small passage the Dracula canon and turning it around, in which a ship arrives in port with the dead captain lashed to the helm, and the crew missing, was an inspired bit of derring-do, but the true act of literary heroism came with the portrayal of the Demeter's skipper as a homosexual who wrestles not only with his urges as his shirtless crew move about the deck in their daily routines, but also with the ghosts of his past and his inner dialogue, through which he equally questions and justifies his yearnings.  It is when desires are acted upon, and efforts at discretion are shattered, that the consequences become tragic.  Such were the days of the late 19th century, but certainly there are parallels from recent history that continue to ring true.

The nameless captain and the nameless tall, thin mysterious stranger on the boat have much in common, and the concept of a desire to conquer, sexually or otherwise, the members of the crew - and the disastrous consequences of potentially failing to harness that desire - is obvious throughout, but not painfully so.   The exploration of where and why desires manifest from the captain's point of view is not an unfamiliar theme, to say nothing of the dangers of acting on those desires, even after taking pains to eliminate any traces.  It could be easy to suggest that the author is showing the black and white of the concept, noting that lives (metaphorically, our social lives) can be destroyed when caution is thrown to the wind, as the crew members begin to disappear, one by one.  The mysterious stranger doesn't succumb to his desires, he is driven by them - we don't know through this writing, but the vampire legend tells us that the compulsion to bite and drink blood is to survive or to propagate.  If this is the author's intent, one could presume (at least in the time contemporary to the story) that suppressing homosexual desires to survive is the author's message, which hardly seems likely.

Sometimes I can try to dig too deeply, trying to find recesses in which an author has left a veiled message, instead of just enjoying a riveting story.  This is a riveting story.

Plenty of rising dread and horror as the novel progresses. David Bowles is to be commended for his translation work.  The book concludes with a nice afterword by Poppy Z. Brite, exploring the history of the original 'Dracula' and its queer undertones, positing that the inspiration for the novel could have stemmed from Stoker's friendship with Oscar Wilde, and the latter's imprisonment for acting on his desires.

In all, a very good book. 

Sincere thanks to Innsmouth Free Press and NetGalley for providing the ARC.  Access thereto in no way influenced this review.
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4.5 stars!

I’m so thankful to Silvia Moreno-Garcia for providing this book for English speakers.

The Route of Ice and Salt is an offshoot of Dracula, instead of a reimagining or retelling. It follows the captain of the Demeter as it takes mysterious boxes from Wallachia to England. It follows up on hidden homosexual themes in Dracula, by having a homosexual captain with internalized homophobia. We also have a beautiful intro written that explains the link between homosexuality and vampirism. It’s definitely something I want to explore in the future.

It’s a beautifully written novella. The words are truly poetic as we sail from Wallachia, seemingly all OK, then a sort of quiet horror begins to come through. The crew begins to disappear while white rats infiltrate. The captain has nightmares about his previous partner who was killed for homosexuality. He has nightmares of someone joining his bed at night. Eventually, we come to the end where not much is left but the captain and his terror.

Reading Dracula is not required to understand this novella, but I definitely believe it adds to it. We have a tiny glimpse of the Demeter in Dracula, but The Route of Ice and Salt allows something special to be seen before the abandoned ship arrives in Whitby.

Thank you to Innsmouth Free Press and NetGalley for the chance to read this advanced review copy!
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[Review will be published at link below on February 17, 2021.]

Translated by David Bowles and published in English for the first time, this 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!

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. 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!

Representation: gay main character (m/m)
Content warning: gore, recollections of homophobia and killing of gay character, use of g*psy slur, self harm, sexual imagery, suicide

eARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley for review. This did not affect my opinion or the contents of my review. Quotations are from an unfinished proof and are subject to change upon publication.
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The Route of Ice and Salt reimagines Dracula's voyage to England aboard The Demeter, breathing life into the unnamed captain of the ship and giving him and his story a voice. As the Demeter makes it's way to England strange and horrifying happening begin to befall the crew. The captain finds his dreams haunted, filled with longing and fear.

The Route of Ice and Salt may not be a long book but it packs a punch. The writing draws you in from the beginning and even as the horrors unfold and the dread settle over your shoulders, you cannot look away. Though I obviously know the legend of Dracula and various takes, I haven't actually read the Bram Stocker version so I went into this blind. But I found it to be an excellent rendition of the voyage to England, particularly in the life it gave to the captain.

In The Route of Ice and Salt, Zárate uses vampirism as a way to examine how queerness is treated. Through the captain's struggles to accept his queerness, to the fate of his lover and the understanding he comes to, the author does this very well and the Captains final revelations are beautiful to watch him come to.

I definitely recommend The Route of Ice and Salt, it is at time unsettling and creepy but the writing is just phenomenal. The creeping sense of dread, the horror melded with desire is so well done. It's hard to know what to write in some ways because it's so unlike anything I've read before but I am very grateful to David Bowles and those at Innsmouth Free Press for translating this book, it is highly unlikely I would have stumbled across it otherwise and I am very glad I got to read it.

"But I must see that man for the last time, tell him that Hunger is not a sin, nor is Necessity or Appetite.
What matters, I repeat, is what we are willing to do to satisfy them."
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The Route of Ice and Salt documents The Demeter's voyage to England, as it is mentioned in Bram Stoker's Dracula, and utilises a queer perspective and largely monologue-based narrative form as to tell its story. For many years, scholars have believed Dracula - and all vampire-texts - to be an analogy for being queer (one of the first vampire texts is sapphic so this is based on good evidence) and this is something that Zárate leaned into when writing this novella.
The story is largely told through the thoughts of the Captain of the Demeter whose lust for his shipmates is paralleled against Dracula's bloodlust due to the reader's prior knowledge of the original text. The Captain's observations and voice form a very tense story that builds and builds as to provide a wonderfully satisfying conclusion to the novella. Zárate's writing style, mimicking traditional gothic literature, is incredibly rich and such a delight to read.
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DNF @ 15%

This has a really interesting tone, and I've already recommended it to some of my blogging friends who I think would find it a better fit. Unfortunately something about the voice didn't really work for me personally. If this ends up getting an audiobook, there's a very good chance I'll end up listening to it, but I just didn't mesh with it. 

If you like gothic horror, strange little novellas and Dracula mythos, you might enjoy this more than I did and I'd recommend picking it up, it's certainly worth a try.
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This book was bizarre, sexual, and unlike anything I've ever read. It read like a novel in verse. The foreword and afterword at the beginning were really useful to give context to the book. I thought the story was very interesting with great imagery and writing style but it did get a bit repetitive. I do wish that there was more of a plot to the book, but this is definitely one of the best examples of truly queer horror. People who are looking for that would like this book.
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This was a very interesting novella. I will go ahead and warn everyone that this is very character focused and not so much plot focused. It is essentially the writings of the unnamed captain from Dracula, as you can imagine it takes place almost entirely on the boat and there isn't a ton of dialogue. If you do not want to spend a decent amount of time inside someone's head, probably not the book for you. 

What I will say though: It does a great job at really portraying the mental state of the captain and the many thoughts that cross his mind. Was I disappointed at the lack of smut? maybe. But still I had a fun time reading it. Always here for more Dracula/vampire content!

Honestly, pick this up if you're looking for something that is heavy on internal thoughts. You really do understand the captain and his process by the end of it. Spooky and atmospheric, and it had vampires, what more can I ask for. 

It is only 4 stars because I felt like the latter half (mostly the last chapter) dragged on a bit too long. And there was a plot thing that honestly didn't NEED to happen which added to the drag. Translation wise: all the sentences were written beautifully and there weren't any spots that I noticed where it felt like it was weirdly paced.
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This is a queer vampire novella about Dracula’s voyage to England on the Demeter, and it really packs a punch. The writing is provocative and graphic. While the monsters are real, this story shines more on the self-revelation of the captain, including his hungers and desires. I went into this pretty blind, so don’t want to give any more away - just for grab a copy for yourself! 

CW: homophobia (including to self), allusions of predatory sexual accounts and trauma, graphic sexual fantasies
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I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand the writing was hauntingly beautiful and painful in turn, and I loved the gothic imagery, and the exploration of desires and how they can corrupt. On the other, it wasn't a story that swept me away, and I found myself having to go away and come back after a short break several times, and this is not a long book. Still, it is a fantastic addition to vampire literature that I had been unaware of, and a I said I absolutely loved the writing.
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As soon as I heard there was a queer reimagining of "the boat bit" in Dracula I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. It turned out to be this utterly exquisite, beautiful novella by José Luis Zárate and translated by David Bowles. 

This is a hauntingly poetic story and contemplative as opposed to action driven. It's told through the voice of the Captain who examines his own homosexual desires towards his crew, and others, alongside the horrors that Dracula has brought to the ship. It's an insidious tale, like the vampire itself it creeps and burrows underneath your skin - I couldn't have put it down even if I wanted to. It was exactly what I was hoping for, just even more gorgeous.

An introduction by Silvia Moreno Garcia, a new prologue from the author and an afterword from Poppy Z. Brite/Billy Martin offer some much appreciated additional context into the history of homosexuality in vampire fiction.

Thank you to NetGalley and Innsmouth Free Press for the copy.
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