A Vampire Novel Which Combines the Best of Horror and Historical Story Telling
Do you remember the last time you read a book that kept you up late? You know what I mean; it’s the middle of the week, way past your bedtime and you have to get up early for work in the morning, but you just have to know what happens next in the book that you are reading. That was me when I read George R.R. Martin’s ‘Fevre Dream’, and I finally finished it at around 2:30am. Even then, hours past the time I usually sleep, I lay awake, going over the story that I had just read and not just thinking, but feeling the emotions the book had evoked in me. It had been so long since I felt this way about a story, that I had to share ‘Fevre Dream’.
I have been an avid reader all my life and read just about anything but in the last year or so, I have not been able to read as much as I like due to being extremely over-worked and even when I did read, it was some kind of manual or guide on something that will help me to grow my business. So, on the rare occasion I have the chance to read fiction, I am extremely selective and I have a ‘To Read’ list on standby. This list is compiled by reading other reviews and suggestions and many years ago I had read an article about the best Vampire novels of all time and ‘Fevre Dream’ had been recommended, so it has been waiting to be read for quite a while now.
This is a book that will appeal to those who love historical, vampire, horror or suspense novels. Do not be put off by the fact that it seems to straddle so many genres. This is one of the things that prevented me from reading this book for so long, as you shall see, and I regret that so much now. I aim to share with you a review of the book and also deeper elements raised by the author that I feel are particularly noteworthy; I just hope I can do this book justice.
Fevre Dream: A Synopsis
The story begins in 1857 in St Louis where Captain Abner Marsh has come to meet Joshua York. Captain Marsh is the owner of a steamboat business which has had a run of bad luck and he is all but ruined. He has received a letter from Mr York, a wealthy business man and the letter outlines a business offer which is why the two men are meeting. Joshua York has offered to buy into the business and become Marsh’s business partner and offered him unlimited funds to create a new, lavish boat, on which they will travel up and down the Mississippi, ferrying passengers and goods. The offer seems to be too good to be true, especially as all York asks in return is that Marsh ask him no questions about his strange practices or those of the friends that will be accompanying him.
The two become business partners and Marsh builds the boat of his dreams, called the Fevre Dream and much of the story takes place on this boat while she goes on her maiden trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans. It is on that trip that Captain Marsh, despite his agreement to the contrary, begins to question who his business partner really is and what is actually going on, and eventually, this stout, honest riverman is shown a world he would never have dreamed existed.
Whether you’ve only recently gotten into vampire novels or have read extensively in this genre, the vampires in Fevre Dream are not at all run of the mill. I don’t want to give away too much, but George R. R. Martin breaks with the traditional view of vampires and very much creates his own breed. I was totally intrigued with the back story of his vampires and how they worked within his world, and there is a logic and sense to the creatures he presents.
His vampires may not be typically Gothic like Stoker’s Dracula, or a sci-fi breed like in Matheson’s I Am Legend and they definitely don’t sparkle in the sun as Meyer’s offering in Twilight. However, Martin’s vampire race is very much a force to be reckoned with and a real threat to humans. They are frightening and menacing and help to make this story the great horror that it is. While the vampire’s in Fevre Dream are different from Anne Rice’s, they have the same kind of effect, in that you are dragged straight into their world, but the presence of Abner Marsh as the main character in the story helps you to retain the human element, which rather than keep you safe, makes you feel the threat and the horror even more.
Steamboats are a vital part of this story and the name Fevre Dream is what Captain Abner Marsh calls the dream ship that he builds. I’m British and admittedly the opposite of a history buff, but George R.R. Martin has done such a great job of bringing that time to life that I loved reading about life on a steamboat in the mid-1800s, even without the vampires, and that is something I never thought I would say.
Abner Marsh loves his boats and loves being on the river and his passion for what he does transferred from the page to me. This was a time before trains and other means of transportation that we take for granted. For many it was the only way to convey goods or to travel. But Marsh goes beyond just providing a necessary service or running a business; this is the love of his life and we see that in the way she is adorned and treated and with the comparisons made to women.
The smells and sounds of life on the Mississippi are brought to you, and I defy you not to feel the excitement of the crew as they test out their new boat and race other vessels. The story may be reduced down to this boat on this river, during this time, but it represents people in all walks of life and of the paths, passions and beliefs that we all fight for in our own lives.
The story is set in the pre-Civil War South, and as such, slavery is an unavoidable truth of that era. Throughout Fevre Dream we see the way slavery impacts life, both for slaves and for those that rely on them. Although there is little real express commentary on the slave trade, there is so much implied both within the way Abner Marsh feels about slavery and the characters who are affected the most by it.
I liked the way the relationship of masters and slaves amongst whites and blacks was mirrored and explored in the bloodmaster and subservients vampire relationships. Many of the struggles and aspects of slavery were shown through the actions of the vampires and what those creatures were fighting for. Another part of this is in the way vampires and humans relate to one another within the story, but I’m going to look more closely at that in the next part.
Good vs Evil
One of the themes in this book is good vs evil, and it really made me think about what is good and what is evil. On the surface, we may see moral absolutes and white hats and black hats, but as Fevre Dream shows, nothing is that simple. Whereas we may begin the book thinking of the story as humans vs vampires, where the former represent good and the latter evil, where we end up is somewhere entirely different.
What does it mean to be good or evil? For example, there are characters that we would categorise in the good guy camp, who are extremely mean to slaves, or vampires that do incredibly murderous things, but under the duress of their masters; so what is it that makes one good or evil? I found this whole line of thinking fascinating and I enjoyed looking at in Fevre Dream but without being lectured or guided to an answer. It made me consider the choices made by the characters and how it was the actual choices that spoke the loudest about good or evil, even more than actions.
You may already be familiar with George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, which has been made into the hugely popular A Game of Thrones, the name of the first book in the series. I witnessed a debate where one person claimed Fevre Dream was classic literature and not fantasy like the other series, but this was hotly debated by the other person who claimed it had every right to be called fantasy. As I said above, Fevre Dream straddles many genres, but what cannot be disputed is that the quality of writing is fantastic and if you enjoyed the authors other works, you will enjoy this too.