I’ve read a lot of George R.R. Martin’s work already: All of A Song of Ice and Fire, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, Tuf Voyaging, and Dreamsongs: Volume 1, which is a short story collection. (Check out Sandkings! It's perfectly horrifying.) All of these have a fantasy or science fiction element to them, so I was curious to try Fevre Dream, which is more historical fiction...but with vampires.
Spoilers are below, so read carefully.
It’s the mid-1800’s and Abner Marsh, a riverboat captain on the mighty Mississippi, is struggling financially after storms decimated his fleet. It seems like his fortunes are saved when a strange man, Joshua York, offers a partnership with a few caveats. Abner must do whatever Joshua requests, no questions asked, and Abner can build the boat of his dreams. Abner agrees and names her Fevre Dream.
Joshua’s abnormal behavior soon arouses Abner’s suspicions. Learning the truth about his new partner turns the captain’s life upside down and exposes him to a sinister underworld he could never have imagined.
I’ll be honest. I haven’t read very many books with vampires. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve only read the Twilight series. Don’t judge. I was seventeen when that started and by the time the movies came out I realized it wasn’t...that great. To put it mildly. I will say that the books were marginally better than the movies.
Despite my limited vampire experience, I really enjoyed this one. I liked the time and place it was set in. A riverboat in the mid-1800’s? That’s something I know nothing about, so it was nice to go to a new place mentally. I can’t verify if everything was 100% historically accurate, but Martin did a great job at immersing the reader. The misty nights, riverboat races, and processes of operating a boat were all explained in detail.
The two main characters, Joshua and Abner, were a weird pairing, but I liked the chemistry they had going on. Their partnership turned into as much of a friendship as it possibly could have. Joshua was easy to root for because of his morals, and I found his backstory to be creative. (And - for this novel at least - I was glad GRRM did away with some vampire facts like fear of garlic. It didn't suit this story.) Abner was gruff and stubborn, but loyal to Joshua when he learned the truth of Joshua's mission and deemed it worthwhile. There were tense moments when I thought the characters would all die (since it was GRRM) and deep questions that probed into the morality of the most polarizing issue of that time: slavery. Good versus evil, slave versus master, vampire versus human: each character had to face what they were and overcome it or be destroyed by it.
At the very end of the novel, over a decade went by between Joshua leaving and finding Abner again. The summary of those years ended up being one of my favorite parts. Abner’s life after the Fevre Dream took a strange turn, and watching his obsession to find the boat fade was rather depressing. However, it made me happy to see that Abner’s experience with the vampires gave him empathy toward his own species when he became a part of the underground railroad. In a book filled with slavery and evil, it was satisfying to see one man take responsibility for his inaction and try to make a difference.
If you’re familiar with A Song of Ice and Fire, you are aware that Martin likes to play with your emotions. After Abner passed away, we saw that his grave was often visited by the eternal Joshua. And if that wasn't sad enough, the engraving on his tombstone broke my heart a little. Thanks, GRRM.
I think now I’ll check out some other vampire novels by the masters of the genre.
NOTE: This book does use the n-word. I assume Martin chose to do so because of the time period it was set in. If it helps, the majority of the n-word’s use comes from the characters that are really terrible and easy to hate. Reading that word in the context of slavery is always extremely depressing to me, so keep that in mind if you tend to get the same feeling.
I liked this book enough to give it 4 out of 5; it’s not my favorite of George R.R. Martin’s works but it was an entertaining read since it’s different from his norm. A Martin - or vampire - fan should definitely read it, but if you haven’t read his stuff before I’d still recommend Game of Thrones first.