First published (in English language) in July of 2018, Swedish author Mats Strandberg’s novel ‘Blood Cruise’ was originally published in Swedish under the title ‘Färjan’ back in September of 2015.

DLS Synopsis:
Each night the cruise ferry – The Baltic Charisma – would carry some twelve-hundred passengers from Sweden to Finland and then back again.  It’s a route the aging vessel has been travelling for years.  A booze-cruise bursting at the rafters with eating, drinking and dancing in the no man’s land that is the Baltic.

It’s now early November and The Baltic Charisma is setting off on another alcohol-fuelled voyage along the same tired stretch.  The booze-cruise revellers having already boarded the ferry and the majority invariably now headed straight for the bars.

Young teenager Albin Sandén is accompanying his disabled mother and borderline alcoholic father on the cruise.  But it’s not all bad.  At least his cousin Lo will be joining them.  Although she’s a few years older, Lo and him have always shared an understanding.  A deeply ingrained bond that Albin has relished.  Although it’s been a while since Albin’s seen Lo.  He’s just hoping she hasn’t changed much.

Elsewhere on the ferry, Marianne is experiencing her first cruise of this nature.  In fact, booking a place on The Baltic Charisma had been a spontaneous decision that was completely out of character for Marianne.  Now she was wondering if she’d made a mistake.  Why had she made such a last-minute rash decision?  Who was she kidding?  This wasn’t her?  She was on her own and as far outside of her comfort zone as she could get.

At the other end of the spectrum you had Madde and Zandra – two seasoned partygoers of The Baltic Charisma who have survived the heavy-drinking and non-stop-dancing year after year.  And this time was to be no exception.  And maybe tonight they may manage to catch the eye of washed-up Eurovision star Dan Appelgren who was hosting the ferry’s karaoke bar as always.

Of course there were those who saw the other side of The Baltic Charisma.  Pia was head of security and saw up close the drunken debauchery that always ensued.  Maintaining some degree of order on board the vessel wasn’t an easy task.  Their team was only four-strong, with the same amount of on-board cells for locking-up the worst offenders for the night.  But Pia’s strong-willed zero tolerance attitude ultimately always kept the order.

But tonight all of that was about to change.  The Baltic Charisma had two passengers who brought with them more danger, more chaos, more horror than the ferry had ever witnessed.  From the outside they may have looked out of place because of their quiet and reserved nature.  These two weren’t there to party like the rest of the ferry’s revellers.  They looked like any other mother and her young boy.  Although there was something about them that seemed off.  Dangerous almost.  Like a shadowy illness that made you want to move away from them.  Distance yourself.  Get out of harm’s way.

The woman worried about her son.  She looked after him, but knew all too well of the darkness contained within the boy.  Of what he was capable of.  It scared her.  And now her worst fears had been realised.  The boy had crossed the boundary.  Somehow she knew she had to avert this disaster.  All the people on board the ship were in danger.  With nowhere to run.  Nowhere to hide.  She was responsible for them all now.  For every drop of blood spilt.  Every life lost.  She was responsible…

DLS Review:
When vampire stories are done well they can produce some pretty horrifying results.  Gone are the days of clichéd highbrow aristocratic posers who are more likely to seduce a pale-skinned harlot than tear into her flesh.  Instead we have this far more vicious new breed of blood-hungry vampires.  These badboys are ferocious, hungry and god damn violent as sin.

Did it all evolve from Stephen Norrington’s film adaptation of ‘Blade’ (1998)?  Was that film the catalyst for this more savage, blood-hungry beast to emerge from?  I don’t know the answer to that.  But what I do know is that I personally far prefer these flesh-ripping bastards to the pompous old school suave and sophisticated Hammer Horror ones.

For his novel, author Mats Strandberg has fully embraced the gritty, gut-pounding gruesomeness of these relatively newly-evolved versions of the vampire.  Within this hefty tome you have far more than a splatter or two of blood.  You have a veritable tsunami of gore sloshing across the packed dancefloors and creeping out from behind the closed doors of the ferry’s passenger cabins.

The tale is incredibly character-driven.  In fact, the chapters alternate between the different characters as they embark on this short twenty-four-hour cruise that will ultimately end in utter carnage.  With such a focus upon the characters, Strandberg puts a great deal of effort into fleshing out each one – with careful and loving attention given to their gradual plight, as the undead start to take hold of the ferry.  Indeed, each character has their own distinct personality which draws the reader into their lives.  They each have their own reasons for being on The Baltic Charisma on that fateful voyage.  Each one shows a different perspective on a passenger.  A different view on life.  A different angle to see the unfolding horror from.

It does take a little while for the terror and bloodshed to get properly underway.  There’s a certain amount of scene setting, of character building and getting everything in place for the chaos that is soon to follow.  For some who thrive on the fast-paced adrenaline-rush of pulp horror, this may seem a tad too sluggish.  It’s something like a hundred or so pages before we start to see our needle-fanged friends getting down and dirty with some proper throat-ripping viciousness.  But trust me, when we get there, when the blood starts to flow, there is no one on earth that would call the tale dawdling.

There’s a lot of similarities between the savagery and brutality of ‘Blade’ (1998) and what Strandberg offers up here.  We’ve got a veritable wave of flesh-hungry undead, devouring and infecting the hapless partygoers on the tightly-packed dancefloors and along the aging corridors of the cruise ferry.  The booze is flowing, everyone’s hammered, and all of a sudden all hell has broken loose.

The premise isn’t exactly balls-out original.  But that doesn’t matter.  It’s a story that’s all about the characters.  They’re reaction to the horror.  How they cope.  How they fight.  How they survive…or not.

It’s a throat-ripping, blood-splattered vampire horror where there’s nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, and no help coming until dawn finally breaks.

The novel runs for a total of 545 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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