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George R.R. Martin ‘Fevre Dream’ Review


Fevre-Dream

Written: James Keen

Though he’s come to mainstream prominence over the past few years – and rightly so – for his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ efforts and their resultant adaptations for the small screen, George RR Martin is an author that arguably should be more readily associated with lean science fiction stories and one truly outstanding work of horror fiction;the novel ‘Fevre Dream’.

Published in the early 1980’s and seemingly overlooked by a horror-reading public more inclined at the time to consuming Stephen King, Whitley Streiber and Dean Koontz novels (possibly a marketing disadvantage one of his peers, Robert R McCammon also seemed to suffer from; see Mystery Walk et.al) this vividly realized tale of vampires set in the deep south of America during the 1800’s deserves a re-evaluation for those interested not only in perhaps discovering an absorbing work of dark fiction but also for those who delight in simply experiencing a tale well told.

Martin begins the book with the character, Abner Marsh, a tall heavyset steamship trader of some repute meeting the curious and youthful figure of Joshua York in a hotel dining room. The year is 1857, we are in St. Louis and intriguingly, this appointment takes place after midnight. Though Marsh is initially hesitant he agrees to a deal with York, an evidently wealthy fellow, who proposes to build an opulent new steamboat to navigate the Mississippi River for business and pleasure, with Marsh overseeing the construction and subsequently taking the captaincy of the boat. York cautions the down-on-his luck tradesman during the deal, ‘I am no river man…I need someone who is, who can manage the day to day operations of my boat and leave me to pursue my own interests.’. Marsh is not to question his actions. During this conversation Marsh is asked of his religious beliefs, which he states are negligible, ‘Never cared for bible-thumpers…nor them for me.’ It’s a question that quickly takes on a much larger significance as the novel unfurls.

The odd relationship between the two men is explored by Martin with a marked intelligence and an implied empathy with the reader’s presumptions; just when it becomes apparent that the protagonist, Marsh, is pro-actively suspicious of York’s increasingly strange activities both on and off the newly built vessel (the rather ominously named ‘Fevre Dream’ of the title), Martin switches narrative gears to confound expectation and in so doing slyly ratchets up the tension.

Offset against the mismatched character dynamic of Marsh and York, Fevre Dream boasts a particularly devious and malevolent foil in the shape of Damon Julian. A vampire who, along with his retinue of immortal ‘followers’ and with help from his fanatical human thrall, the unctuous character of Sour Billy, gives Martin’s haunting tale an unnervingly grim focus. York and Damon have something of a history, it seems. As the novel progresses the escalating tension between the opposing camps of the inhabitants of the Fevre Dream and the vicious, morally vacuous Damon Julian fronted group is handled deftly by the author who interjects vivid descriptions of the period setting and a broad background sketching of the times (the Civil War, slavery, pestilence and the uncertain and often perilous nature of the steamboat business) to great effect.

This is an eerily atmospheric vampire novel that spans forty-something years and one clearly written by an author with a profound understanding of the tropes that generally permeate such fiction. However, it is Martin’s subverting of certain elements that we commonly associate with this genre that helps give Fevre Dream such a  mesmerizing hold on the reader. The characters are crisply delineated and in only a few instances does Martin resort to rendering them as stereotypical (the ship’s pilot Framm and leading deck hand Hairy Mike are examples thereof). Martin’s ‘steady hand on the wheel’ regarding the direction of the story is assured, though on occasion the pace of the plot is maddeningly slow. Taken as a whole it’s a satisfying (though heart-breaking) journey. The book has much to say about the whittling nature of obsession and its unerring tendency to undermine and destroy, both spiritually and physically, to the point where this thematic device threatens to snuff out the optimistic idealism expressed through the characters of Marsh and York.

Throw in a few deftly used portions of Byron’s poetry (doubling as a clever plot device), a terrifying night time river chase between two steamboats, enough blood-letting to sate aficionados of the genre, a grisly final confrontation that bristles with tension and dread and you have a wonderfully sinister book that was made for devouring late into the night. Not for those readers prone to squeamishness…nor perhaps for those who happen to live near a river.

Order your copy of Fevre Dream right here.

Rating: 4.5/5

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

5 Comments on George R.R. Martin ‘Fevre Dream’ Review

  1. Wayne C. Rogers // February 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm // Reply

    James, a fantastic review on an old-time classic. I remember when Fevre Dream came out in hardcover. I purchased a copy, loved it, and wrote a review for Fantasy Mongers newsletter. The hardcover didn’t do much in sales. I was working in a bookstore at the time and only sold four-or-five copies of it, due to my recommendation. The paperback did better when it came out the following year, but nowhere close to the quantity of what King’s books were doing. I think I still have the letter I got from George about my review. I also believe this was the only horror novel he wrote. For those who don’t know, the HBO series, The Game of Thrones, is based on George’s fantasy novels, and the books are thick.

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  2. Thanks for the feedback, Wayne. I totally forgot to mention the TV series title.
    It’s a shame this book hasn’t engendered a larger audience. The current reprint of Fevre Dream has a cover that is designed to appeal – or at least catch the eye of – those who follow his A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Quite misleading. I miss the Martin of old, particularly his short fiction (Songs The Dead Men Sing)and it’s a shame he hasn’t indulged in writing more horror fiction -other than the novella The Skin Trade he appears to have entirely discarded the genre as a mode of story telling.
    Do you still have your review from Fear Mongers? If so maybe you could post it online here. I’d be interested to read it.

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  3. Wayne C. Rogers // February 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm // Reply

    My issues of Fantasy Mongers newsletter disappeared after several moves I made during the last thirty years. I know that my review of Rick McCammon’s Mystery Walk that I wrote for Fantasy Mongers, is up on his website. All the rest have vanished into the Black Hole of the Universe. Sorry! Well, the second season of Game of Thrones comes out on DVD this Tuesday. I hope to get that when the price comes down a little.

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    • Damn shame, Wayne. I’ll check out your review of Mystery Walk as soon as I’ve finished re-reading it.
      I’ve tried but I can’t get into Martin’s Game of Thrones. Around 1994 I received an un-proofed copy of A Game of Thrones from his then editor Joy Chamberlain as a way of apologizing for taking so long to respond to my manuscript submission (I’d mentioned George’s name in the MS). I read it, but I guess that type of fantasy fiction is just not for me, though my girlfriend and my family absolutely loved it. The same bunch that couldn’t stand his earlier stuff. Go figure…

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      • Wayne C. Rogers // February 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm //

        James,

        Strange as it may seem, I can’t read Sword & Scocery and Fantasy novels, but I do enjoy a few of the movies and TV shows that have been made from them. I found myself enjoyed the first season of Game of Thrones on DVD. Of course, it’s now been a year and I’ve forgotten a lot of what took place in the show. I don’t have the time to rewatch it in preparation for Season Two. From talking to other people at work, I heard that Season Two was good, so I’ll eventually buy it.

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