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Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Deliciously tasty vampire novel on the Mississippi River.
Pages: 344 (Paperback)
Publisher: Bantam (originally published 1982)
Vampires and New Orleans go together like blood and wine. Just ask Concrete Blonde or Anne Rice. Turns out that George R. R. Martin was way ahead of both of them with his 1982 release, Fevre Dream. Reissued as a paperback in 2004, I picked this one up used at a community garage sale (the cover price tag says 50 cents!) If you've ever read any of Martin (Windhaven and Dying of the Light come to mind, plus that gigantic Song of Ice and Fire mega-ology) you know that anybody with the middle initials "R. R." is a cool writer. Ok, so call me a fanboy, even though I got bogged down in Ice and Fire.
So, what about Fevre Dream? I'd read summaries of it before and for some reason, despite liking Martin, I'd gotten bored with Song of ice and Fire and jumped off the bandwagon. So, it wasn't until the fateful garage sale that I decided to take the plunge. And even then it took a few months to crack the cover.
Fevre Dream is classic romantic horror. Protagonist ship captain Abner Marsh (sounding a bit like a Lovecraft villain), down on his luck, strikes a deal with the devil when he becomes business partners with the rich and eccentric Joshua York to build the greatest most luxurious steamboat ever seen on the Mississippi. York's only caveats are that Marsh is to accommodate his odd friends, travel schedules and personal habits. Well of course York is a wealthy and powerful vampire with an agenda of his own, and their ship The Fevre Dream isn't exactly the Disney Magic. Nothing however is simple, and only after many layers of deception are uncovered is the real nature of evil revealed.
The fabric of the Civil War-era Mississippi and New Orleans are alternatingly decadent and depraved, extravagant and penniless, sophisticated and base. Martin weaves a great tapestry behind the story, introducing his own biology and anthopology of vampires to compete with any fictional mythos. The result is a less fictional and more believable kind of child of the night than most, and a satisfying read all around. At first I was annoyed by the period vernacular, especially of Marsh's own expressions and idioms, but it would be hard to appreciate the period without period dialog and culture worked into the warp and weft of the entire story.
Two things I felt the story fell a bit short on. First, the meme of the seductive and hypnotic vampire is so ingrained, all the way back to Jonathan Harker's seduction by the Brides of Dracula. But while Fevre Dream's vampires seem to hold humans in thrall mesmerically, it comes off and plain and clinical. Nothing like Anne Rice's passionate spellbinding, though clearly Rice has her own kinks. Secondly, I felt like the endgame was brief, unsubtle and unsatisfying. I'm not sure why, it just felt like the entire book led up to an essentially flat resolution. There was so much potential that was never exploited. Ah well, at least it's not a Lost Boys sequel.
Final assessment? Well it was clearly worth more than the 50 cents I paid for it. I still really enjoyed it, and it's a pioneering work in the cool cachet of vampires and New Orleans. Draw the curtains, light the candles, put on "Bloodletting", open a nice bottle of red wine and immerse yourself in willful suspension of disbelief. You can just about smell the river mists of the Vieux Carre drifting in, carrying the sound of a distant steam-whistle shrieking... Or was it a woman?