Writer George R. R. Martin is best known for his exciting fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, although his earlier successes can be found in television scripts, short Sci-Fi’s and novellas; gracing the pages of magazines and newly reprinted paperbacks like Armageddon Rag, Dying of the Light, and Fevre Dream. His stories are intricate and delightful, and his characters are immediately relatable.
The vampire lore in Fevre Dream deviate heavily from myth and borrows liberally from other contemporary writers, or is borrowed from, as Martin first published this in 1982. The cover of Fevre Dreams (newest print) was the only misleading feature of this novel. I plucked it from the shelf of the used bookstore, aghast that anything written by Martin would be stacked alongside the other smutty vampire tales, between Rice and Hamilton. But when I held it in my hands it sure looked like another sex-loaded bloodsucker tale; a naked prostrate woman lounging across the top of the title, a leathery winged bat flying across a blue moonlit riverfront, dark and eerie over a horizon of scraggly trees. The jacket quotes claim “sexy” and “romantic”.
Well, you know the saying; never judge a book...blah blah blah.
The story has barely a smattering of romance. And as sexy as the vampires are, (Martin has a thing for women with purple eyes) sex itself is hardly mentioned, and never a feature. The vampires aren’t even the focus of the story until well into the second half. It’s more about the thralls; the men who act as human counterparts and guardians for the vampires during the day. And of course, the steamboats.
Steamboats and their crews dominate large portions of the early chapters and several references to Mark Twain are made, not in a tacky way, but more in homage. The picture he paints of life on the steamers, of clashing ethnic views in the 1800’s, and of the racial tensions in a world turning against slavery, is vivid and capturing, and strikes the perfect balance as to not take away the spotlight from the supernatural elements. The voice he uses for Captain Abner Marsh, the "ugliest man to captain a steamer", has an audible twang of southern dialect that remains clear yet true to the source.
A schism has grown between the old and the new in the vampire ranks; between those that drink from human victims, and those that can abstain by using a tonic substitute for blood. While most of the vampires tend to be obscurely mentioned and killed off as the story progresses, those that support the plot are lavished with exceptional description and smart dialogue. Even the long, one-sided speeches that can often hurt the rhythm and stall the reader, are dynamic and keep up momentum.
Vlad vs. Bad;
This is not some cheap bump-in-the-night thriller. It’s a vampire tale with real substance to it, something I never thought I would say. With some scenes so gruesome and dark it’s a toss-up over who can commit more atrocities, those that feed off mankind, or men. By the end you’ll be left with a mixed sense of loss or regret for the fierce killers, maybe even a little sympathy.