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Fevre Dream was a book I was not initially geared up to read or enjoy. It was part of a group of Fantasy Masterworks books that I bought in bulk from a cheap bookshop and it lay on my bookshelf for quite a while before I picked it up to read. A story about vampires on a steamboat along the Mississippi River did not really whet my appetite, especially with the current glut of vampire related paraphernalia out at the moments. Then again, George R.R Martin wrote this novel in 1982 so I was willing to give it a go.
The book tells the story of Abner Marsh, an ugly and fat, but highly skilled steamboat captain who when he seems to be at the very bottom of the pile is approached by the mysterious Joshua York with a strange proposition..York asks Marsh to build a new steamboat that he and Marsh will captain along the Mississippi river. The softly spoken and bleary eyed York stumps up the money and they start their journey downriver, however, York will only come out of his cabin at night and will often ask for the boat to stop a strange places along the river - he then comes back covered in blood.
Joshua York is a very clever invention who comes across as a nice vampire. The frequent Byron references can be a bit tiresome, but York is a decent invention who comes across as a very mysterious person.
Abner Marsh is probably the most rounded (in more ways than one) character in the entire book. He's a strange hero who wants to know more about the vampires and their ways. Marsh is a pretty down to earth no-nonsense river man who says it the way it is. I actually came to quite enjoy his characterisation and his hijinks around the Fevre Dream.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Fevre Dream itself as well as the life around the Big Miss itself. The fact that the book is set in the deep South around the time of slavery throws up a few choice 'n' words which can be a little hard to stomach. I suppose the fact that these words are only used by the main protagonist is a good thing, but then I suppose that is what was used back then around this time. I was also shocked by the quite vivid descriptions of brutality and bloodletting in the book which surprised me quite a bit. One sequence does describe a coloured baby being sacrificed to some evil vampires which is quite shocking.
One of the most interesting parts of the book describes York's background from the French revolution, to his time in England and eventually America. It tells how he first realised he was a vampire and how he managed to satisfy his monthly 'thirst; I was really impressed with this enthralling section of the book which set up its own mythology for which the characters can embody.
I really enjoyed Fevre Dream, a huge amount more than I was expecting to. I'm not into the romantic vampire movies that have come out recently or the books by Meyer and company. This vampire book is original due to the setting and the characters. Marsh doesn't understand the vampire lifestyle because he's just a southern bumpkin ant heart, rather than a savvy noughties teenager.
Fevre Dream was another excellent addition to the brilliant Fantasy Masterworks series and one that I am continuing to read and collect.
I am struggling to discover why this book had me gripped from the moment I started reading. I must admit, I had not been relishing the thought of a novel about vampires on a steamboat when it was chosen as our next book club read, but 'Fevre Dream' turned out to be less of a gory horror story and more of an exploration into two fascinating characters (Abner Marsh and Joshua York), and how their fascinating partnership and aspirations.
The setting and descriptions of the steam boat era in America in the mid 1800s made the while story come alive. Martin was able to create vivid images which were as exciting to discover as where the plot was leading.
In its 400 pages, 'Fevre Dream' introduces and explores a variety of themes- friendship and loyalty, slavery, beauty, choices and war. These very real topics give relevance and realism to this otherwise fantasy novel.
Martin draws his main characters well, though some may argue that they are caricatures. Abner Marsh, the loyal, ugly, passionate captain with whom the York goes into partnership in buying the 'Fevre Dream', is a character I warmed to immediately. The mysterious York's character challenged my perceptions and his loyalty to Abner helps the reader to love him nearly as much.
I was so glad to be made to read this book for book club, otherwise I would have never picked it up. The fast-paced, fantasy was utterly compelling, and I wasn't the only one in the book club who was surprised they felt this way about a book about vampires on a steam boat!