Maybe I should just call this Vampire Book Reviews – that’s all I’ve reviewed thus far. Then again, this is only my second review. Then again again, we’re in the most wonderful time of year: October. Otherwise known as HALLOWEEN MONTH!!!! I’m one of those weirdos who starts prepping for Halloween in September, and this year I want to do something special. Every week this month I’ll be posting about one of the classic horror movies – generally those of the Universal Monsters – as well as whatever vampire novel I decide to read next. Those movie reviews will be starting with the 1931 Frankenstien and possibly 1935’s Bride of Frankenstien as well (because the DVD I rented came with Frankenstien as well as all the sequels. So stay tuned for those reviews!
I’ve been a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series – otherwise known as the book series the HBO show Game of Thrones is based on – since I was in ninth grade, so for four years. I got into the books directly before the show came out, actually, so I was reading through A Clash of Kings when season one premiered. Of course I was ecstatic; suddenly everyone (and I do mean every0ne) knew what I was talking about when I lamented my favorite characters dying, or praised the political intricacy of Westeros.
So when I found out that George had written a vampire novel in 1982, well…you can see why I had to check that out, can’t you?
I wasn’t disappointed. Ol’ George wrote twists of Red Wedding proportions into this little book – which should have been a quick read, as it clocks in at only 354 pages. I say “should” because it took me almost three weeks to read it. I’m a fast reader; it took me a day to read Brandon Sanderson’s book Mistborn: The Final Empire, which is about one thousand pages. That was on a free day, though, and now that I’m in school for six hours a day, plus work, plus homework, plus watching through Buffy the Vampire Slayer…a nerd’s life is a busy one, so not only have I not read it every day since I got it, but I also didn’t read that much on the days I did. That wasn’t completely the reason it took so long to read, though. I’ve found that George’s writing can drag, even in ASoIaF, especially in the first book. A Game of Thrones took me a while to get though, because while there is a lot of the heart-pounding, oh-my-God-I-must-turn-the-next-page-or-die action in ASoIaF, there’s also a lot of padding. The show really cuts down the blubber that permeated book one, and the middle of Fevre Dream held a bit of this for me.
Fevre Dream is both (a) much shorter than any of the ASoIaF books, and (b) much more concise. The mid-book blubber isn’t actually that much, just enough to slow down the process of reading – but trust me, the book as a whole is totally worth some dragging. There are twists and turns, terror and vampires and slavery allegories. Oh yeah, this book takes place on the Mississippi in 1857, the vampirism is used as an allegory for slavery, but I love how much George doesn’t shove this down the reader’s throat. With some vampire allegories (*cough* True Blood *cough cough*), the writer(s) will keep piling on the similarities while the reader/watcher just says, “Okay, guys. We get it. We get it.” With Fevre Dream, this is not the case. A character mentions the similarities between the relationships of vampire to human and master to slave once, but then it’s up to the main characters to decide how to deal with that. What are the moral implications? How do they justify their actions ‘against’ vampires if they so easily justify those against slaves in the South? This leads to some slow changing of opinions on slavery by one of the main characters, and it’s really well done. You can’t quite tell when he swings from pro-slavery to abolitionist, because it’s such a natural progression. And speaking of the characters…
These ones are fantastic. I’d expect nothing less from George than well-developed and complex entities, and these ones are ASoIaF-level complex. My favorite is a tie between the two main characters, and one minor side character. Who are they? Well, cap’n Abner Marsh is basically present-day George R.R. Martin (whenever I see him I just want to slap a captain’s uniform on him and plunk him on a fishing boat), a man who, due to a stroke of extraordinarily bad luck, has lost almost all of his steamboat company’s boats. The only one he has left is his oldest and very worst, until he is approached by the very wealthy Joshua York, who offers Marsh the boat of his dreams if he agrees to be his business partner. York turns out to be a vampire – no spoilers here, it tells you right on the inside jacket of the book – who is trying to cure his people of the “red thirst”. The vampires in this book are both very similar and very dissimilar to ‘classic’ vampire mythology.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in this post-Twilight, overly-humanized, ignoring-most-vampire-mythology age, but when authors play around with the idea of the vampire and don’t necessarily conform to the original ‘demons possessing human corpses’ definition doesn’t really bother me. And classics in vampire literature even do this. It’s a given that sunlight burns vampires, right? Well, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Count is barely bothered by sunlight at all. He wanders about during the day, apparently unharmed, though he is weaker and doesn’t have his shape-shifting abilities. All I’m saying is, not all conventions need to be adhered to in order to call a monster a ‘vampire’. It can be fun when authors mess around with the idea, and the way George does it, tying in werewolf mythology as well, makes complete sense in the context of the world. Keep in mind too that George wrote this in 1982, which was not a time when changing around vampire mythologies was very common.
(Sidenote: I have to admit that it is also refreshing to see vampires done traditionally once in a while, though – Buffy is a show that does it right, and if you haven’t seen it yet…what are you doing? Go watch it. Now.)
So, great characters, great story, fantastic setting and allegories – aside from some slow parts in the middle, Fevre Dream is an utterly gripping novel of suspense and adventure. Pick it up if you haven’t already, and be ready to embark down a river of nightmares.