One of George R. R. Martin’s strongest works, “Fevre Dream” is a lovely blend of horror, mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy, with a touch of the gothic Shelley-esque proto-science-fiction that was being written around the time period the novel takes place in.
The novel chugs along nicely, more concerned with its two main characters (the gruff Abner Marsh and the mysterious Joshua York) and the setting that mashes the steamboat-era America one might find in a Mark Twain novel with supernatural horror (I believe the book was originally marketed to the effect of “Bram Stoker meets Mark Twain”, in fact). The plot moves steadily, but slowly, yet I was rarely bothered as it’s not particularly long, and I was more interested in the characterisation and setting anyway.
The antagonistic forces of the novel felt someone weak and underdeveloped, and I think the book was strongest in its first and second acts, rather than its third act, more plot-focused than the others, and with a lot more of the villains. There are some interesting notions thrown around as to the antagonist’s motivations, but they’re just mused over by the main characters, not really developed. That was an issue with some of the novel’s themes too; there are some interesting parallels and comments made on comparing the supernatural race relations of the book’s fantasy elements with the real-world race relations of the time period, but that never amounted to more than a few conversations.
The film is more concerned with building up its unique atmosphere than presenting many striking horror sequences. Martin goes more for general feelings of unease and dread, rather than explicitly terrifying sequences. There is one memorable sequence around the midpoint, where the antagonist does something truly evil and revolting, that has unfortunately seared a most unpleasant image into my mind, but for the most part, the novel takes a quieter, more tonal approach to the horror elements.
Those quibbles aside, it’s a delightfully engaging, very atmospheric novel, and Abner Marsh is one of Martin’s more memorable and gruffly likeable protagonists. He doesn’t feel “forced” the way a character like Haviland Tuf does; I felt myself naturally growing more fond of Abner as the novel progressed and I got to know him better. I never felt like Martin was pushing me to like the somewhat unlikable man that he is, it just naturally developed, in much the same way as Abner and Joshua’s relationship did.
A fine read. I give it three bottles of brandy, and a red thirst.