This review was originally posted on Fantasy Faction in January 2013
“What kind of story you tryin’ to tell me?” he said gruffly.
“A vampire story,” said York with a sly smile. “Surely you’ve heard them before…”
Fevre Dream is the story of Abner Marsh. An old steamboatman in the mid 19th Century; a man who knows the Mississippi like the back of his hand; a man with a dream to own the fastest steamboat on the river. Only problem is, Marsh is broke. So when he gets the offer of a lifetime to build the ship of his dreams, the Fevre Dream, from a young businessman, Joshua York, he pretty much jumps at the opportunity. Only catch is – York is coming too. And Abner has to abide by York’s every whim, no matter how strange they may be. Y’see, Joshua York has a few odd habits – he likes to dine late in the evening, stop off at strange places along the river, and sleeps during the day. Yep, Joshua York is as strange a fella as Marsh has ever met – but he can put up with a few odd habits for this beauty of a steamboat. That is until the crew start talking. Until more of Joshua’s friends appear on the boat. Until bodies start appearing along the banks of the Mississippi.
The setting for Fevre Dream – the mid nineteenth century Deep South – is fully realised. Martin has taken a real historic setting and thrown the reader in the deep end. His passion for the setting; for steamboats and the Mississippi, is all right there on the page. The sense of atmosphere is astonishing – Martin plants you right there, in the middle of the cloying heat of the Deep South. It feels grimy, hot and dangerous; disgusting and horrific.
In the character of Abner Marsh I couldn’t help feeling like he’d thrown in elements of himself. Marsh is a big guy – he likes his food (and we all know how much GRRM loves writing about food!) and he’s getting old. He certainly isn’t your typical protagonist. But that’s what makes him so endearing – Marsh isn’t afraid to say how he feels, and it’s through Marsh that we see this strange world of steamboats, slavery and vampires. He’s the perfect everyman and a deeply layered character to boot.
Likewise, Joshua York (although not a POV character) is enigmatic and captivating. The story behind York, when we get around to it, is fascinating, and really shows how fully developed Martin’s writing can be. Some of the scenes involving York are edge-of-the-seat type stuff. Martin’s take on the vampire mythos is still genuinely original – and perhaps best of all, Fevre Dream doesn’t necessarily read like a vampire story. It’s more of a good old fashioned tale of terror from a real master of atmosphere and pacing.
The pacing is different to most fantasy/horror novels I’ve read. At times, particularly in the early stages of the novel, it feels like it’s deliberate – like a steamboat cruise, it meanders and burns slowly, but always stays on track. But once things start to take a turn, about a third of the way through, Martin’s plotting comes into play and the book takes twists and turns like only the fastest steamboat could manage.
The side characters in Fevre Dream are perhaps not as fully realised as may be expected from Martin – it’s a much smaller book than any of the Ice and Fire novels, and sometimes his characterisation suffers. Much of the crew members blur into one at times, as do many of York’s friends. However, the antagonists, when they are revealed, are every bit as terrifying and unhinged as one would expect from the man who brought us Joffrey Lannister.
Fevre Dream feels like a long trip through hell; hot, claustrophobic and filled with demons. It’s like Deliverance or Aguirre: Wrath of God – a terrible, heart-thumping journey along a river, filled with all of the worst obstacles imaginable. The red thirst surges along the river – and you really should go along for the ride.