Aboard The Beautiful Dreamer, an aging luxury liner, fun in the sun is not just a promise, but a guarantee. At least, that’s what ailing cruise company Foveros wants you to think. Aboard the Dreamer are numerous bars, parlors, and entertainments, perfect for three days of boozing, mingling, lounging on a Caribbean New Year’s Eve journey—though not everyone aboard the ship is having a grand old time (and that’s even before things start to go south).
On the fourth day of the cruise, the liner experiences catastrophic power loss; its Wi-Fi and radio are completely shot, its engines are shut down, its passengers are stranded somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico and drifting out farther and farther to sea.
And then, things get very, very bad.
A ghostly little boy appears; a lurking dark, tall presence is felt; a woman is found dead; a hack celebrity medium aboard the ship eerily starts to give real readings. Meanwhile, the Dreamer continues to drift without any communication with the outside world…and no one is coming to rescue the stranded ship and the 3,000 souls aboard.
Told through alternating perspectives of seven characters, Day Four is Sarah Lotz’s follow-up/companion novel to The Three—a similar, linked horror novel that examined three (well, technically four) crashed planes and the survivor children who inexplicably walked away from each disaster. This time, Lotz takes the disaster scenario to sea, but follows the same Three-likeformula: childlike demonic/malicious entity possession as a harbinger of the apocalypse, malevolent ghostly apparitions, people acting skeptical and hesitant and afraid of the unexplainable things happening around them.
The problem with both The Three and Day Four is…the books are boring.
Sarah Lotz has a knack for a strong premise and setting the scene; where the books falter, however, are in the actual storytelling. There’s no actual tension in these novels or real sense of urgency or development as the same, blandly predictable things happen for hundreds of pages: a ghost is seen and bangs are heard (one chapter actually ENDS with a “bang!”), characters reflect on how badly things are going, passengers aboard the ship slide into mob-mentality/fight-or-die over tepid bologna sandwiches, professional medium Celine del Rey gathers a few new followers by telling them things she couldn’t possibly know about their pasts/dead loved ones.
None of this is interesting, or surprising, or well-executed. Worse, none of this is even remotely scary. Exacerbating the novel’s forgettable quality is the fact that there are simply too many characters in Day Four and none of them are particularly dastardly, sympathetic, or engaging. The alternating narrative points between each of the seven(ish) characters are each given a lame, cheesetastic title, i.e. “The Devil’s Handmaiden” (for Althea, a hospitality worker); “The Witch’s Assistant” (Maddie, Celine’s personal assistant); “The Keeper of Secrets” (Devi, a closeted security worker and former detective). There’s a blogger who gets aboard the dreamer to debunk and expose the Medium (“The Wildcard Blog”); a ship’s doctor (and addict) escaping from a misdiagnosis he made in the past that haunts his every move (“The Angel of Mercy”); an elderly woman named Helen (one of the “The Suicide Sisters”) who has come aboard the cruise to meet an Internet friend with a very similar interest/goal; and the bland middle-aged teacher who is a secret serial rapist–turned-killer (“The Condemned Man”).
On the positive side, Day Four ends solidly, with a Mary Celeste–type mystery and a selection of 50 or so pages of newspaper clippings, redacted NSA documents, and secretive interviews with the Dreamer’s few survivors and what happened the last few hours of the voyage. (Of course, it would have been nice to SEE the action unfold instead of just being told about it after the fact—especially since one has to slog through a couple hundred pages of the same stuff in order to get to the actual interesting parts of the story.)
The verdict? Though its beginning premise and its ending are solid, there isn’t enough here to justify recommendation—especially not when there are so many other, better horror novels out there for Halloween.
In Book Smugglerish: 4 floating waste-disposal bags out of 10.