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George R. R. Martin – Fevre Dream

May 31, 2013

37. Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin (1982)

Length: 480 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Started: 02 May 2012
Finished: 12 May 2012

Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I like George R. R. Martin, and I like books about vampires.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 April 2013.

Forget Snakes on a
Plane, this book is full of Vamps
on a Riverboat.

Summary: Abner Marsh is a down-on-his-luck steamboat captain when he is approached by a strange man with a fantastical offer. Joshua York is willing to invest in Marsh’s failing business, and to pay for a new ship – the fastest steamboat on the Mississippi – as long as Marsh is willing to agree to York’s strange conditions… and to not ask too many questions. There’s a lot that Marsh is willing to put up with for the sake of his new ship, the Fevre Dream, but he has a difficult time not questioning some of York’s strange behavior: extended stops at out-of-the-way places along the river, a nocturnal schedule, and an increasing number of visitors that join them on the Fevre Dream, all with the same strange habits as Joshua. Eventually Joshua breaks down and lets Abner in on the secret: the Fevre Dream has been playing host to vampires. Abner is obviously concerned for the safety of his crew and passengers, but Joshua assures him there’s no danger from him or any of their guests. The deadly creature for which Joshua is hunting, however, will be a different story…

Review: I enjoy vampire novels, I like historical fiction (especially when it’s set in a time and place about which I haven’t read much, like this one was), and I am a big fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books, so I figured that I would absolutely love this book. But unfortunately, I just… didn’t. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, and while there were a some cool aspects and interesting ideas, as a whole it failed to grab me.

So let’s start with the parts that I liked. There are some cool twists to the vampire story that Martin adds in that I’ve either never seen before, or that I’ve seen but suspect that Martin might have originated. For example, Joshua brews what is essentially a 19th century version of True Blood, a substance (in this case made from sheep’s blood, whiskey, and various other things) that eliminates the need for vampires to feed on humans. Martin’s also good at evoking his settings, and the world of the steamboat trade was vivid and well done. (The only other book I’ve really read about the era was Mississippi Jack, and that obviously had a very different focus.) Because of the setting, there are also some really interesting parallels that are drawn between vampirism and slavery (i.e. one race exploiting another, whether for labor or as a food source).

Unfortunately, although the setting is really well-drawn, it wound up working against the book more than it worked in its favor… at least for me. Specifically, there’s a vampire living in a ruined plantation in 1800s New Orleans… and that’s a hard trick to pull off effectively in a post-Interview with the Vampire world. Essentially, every time the story left the steamboat, I was reminded of Anne Rice’s books, and how much I’d rather have been reading them. Martin’s characters were well-rounded (Joshua and Abner were, at least), but I didn’t find them particularly compelling. The plot was also kind of predictable, and I felt like the pacing could have been tightened up in a number of places. Basically, there were some interesting parts, but I never really got involved in the book, and felt like it could have been more than what it was. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Maybe I’m jaded on vampire books, but while this book had some good elements, I felt like it didn’t really add enough new to the genre (as it stands now; it was most likely different when it was originally published). It would serve as a good antidote to the sparkly variety of vamps, but I don’t know that it’s required reading except for the most dedicated fans of the genre.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Little Red Reviewer, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, The Speculative Scotsman, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Abner Marsh rapped the head of his hickory walking stick smartly on the hotel desk to get the clerk’s attention.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 447: “Way up on her texas roof, halfway to the stars, her pilot house seemed to glitter; a glass temple, its ornate cupola decorated all around with fancy woodwork as intricate as Irish lace.” – A structure on a river steamboat containing the pilothouse and the officers’ quarters.
  • Location 626: “He had a foul mouth and a bad temper and never went noplace without his three-foot-long black iron billet.” – a metal bar of square or circular cross section.
  • Location 766: “It was a charmed run, with no snags or sawyers to bedevil them. Only twice did they have to send out a yawl ahead of them for soundings, and both times they found good water when the dropped lead, and the Fevre Dream steamed on.” – A ship’s small boat, crewed by rowers.
  • Location 2340: “The city was full of free men of color and lovely young quadroons and octaroons and griffes who dressed as fine as white women.” – the offspring of a black and a mulatto.
  • Location 5446: “Marsh was thankful for the planters and the great piles of smoking bagasse that lined the shores since the drifting gray pall from their fires gave the only shade there was for the night folks.” – The dry, fibrous residue remaining after the extraction of juice from the crushed stalks of sugar cane, used as a source of cellulose for some paper products.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2013 9:41 am

    I felt the same way about this one. It’s certainly not Martin’s best. However, if you can get your hands on a copy of his Nightflyers, that one is a secret gem!!

    • May 31, 2013 10:45 am

      Redhead – Thanks for the tip! I’ve got some of his other non-ASoIaF stuff on my shelf, but I don’t think I’d even heard of Nightflyers – I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a copy!

      • May 31, 2013 11:30 pm

        it might not be in print anymore. :( Paperbackswap to the rescue? Or if you’ve got any of his Dreamsongs volumes, there’s some excellent scifi/horror stuff in those too.

  2. May 31, 2013 11:19 am

    It’s a shame this book was a bit of a let down. Someone bought it for my birthday, as I love Martin and I love vampire books – I will adjust my expectations down a bit, I think.

  3. Andy Whitesel permalink
    July 18, 2013 8:57 pm

    All in all I have to agree with your review. I did enjoy some of the different takes on the whole vampire thing yet found Ann Rice’s much better.

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