After finishing George RR (the brains behind Westeros) Martin's first (and hopefully not his last) vampire novel, Fevre Dream, his status as 'number one' on my favourite authors list has been confirmed.
What I relish about reading Martin's fiction is how he so completely transports readers to another world. Through ultra-developed characters, rich worlds and riveting stories, Martin has the power to transfix, and put you right in the midst of the setting – and Fevre Dream is no exception.
Fevre Dream is set in a world I knew little about – the Mississippi River system in the mid to late 19th century. It's a cruel yet compelling world of dark and duplicitous river towns gloomily lit with gas lanterns and suffering from the various injustices born of a dependence on slavery and an emerging cutthroat capitalism. Steamboats are an intrinsic part of the culture. The back and side-wheelers cart goods and people up and down various rivers from town to town. Before this book, I knew nothing of the steamboat trade that was so important in the1800s in a continent far, far away. I knew nothing of the various hazards that destroyed boats in the hundreds, and nor did I care. But, within this setting, I found myself fully immersed and invested in the adventures and politics of steamboatin back in the old days. Such a backdrop provided delightfully gothic atmospherics, perfect for a vampire story.
Abner Marsh is our lead character. He's a grouchy old steamboat captain who's rather ugly and grossly overweight and isn't the world's most learned man. He's hardly a likely hero, but Abner's quirky ways, his distrust of "bible thumpers", his propensity to think things through with slow thoroughness, his sympathy for slaves (he bought a slave, and then promptly gave him his freedom), and his thoughtful morality, all make him increasingly likable, despite his single-minded obsession to run the biggest and best steamboat on the river. An obsession that impoverishes him and very nearly brings his own death, several times.
The vampires in the story are cast in a typically sophisticated light. They are beautiful, intelligent and deadly, and as such, Martin will satisfy vampire fans' appreciation of such popular hallmarks of the trope. However, he brings to the mythology his own twist on vampire legend, which provides an intriguing divergence from the norm while adding complexity and freshness to the well-worn vampire story. In short, adherents to traditional vampire tales as well as those looking for new twists, will enjoy this aspect of the tale. Needless to say, when grouchy old Abner meets our handsome vampire and sophisticate, Joshua York, a very interesting relationship ensues, one which challenges and changes both men – and when characters develop and evolve by the novel's end, you know you're reading a damn good story.
I highly recommend Fevre Dream to any readers of vampire, gothic and horror fiction. You won't be disappointed.