Fevre Dream has got to be one of the best vampire novels I've ever read. I found myself caring deeply about the main characters ... a human, a vampire, and a steamboat. Yes, you heard me correctly. I cared very much about the steamboat. The story takes place in the mid 1800s primarily on the Mississippi River. The settings, whether on the steamboat navigating the River or on a plantation in the Deep South, were incredibly evocative of a different time and place. I could feel the settings. I was there.
I can't tell you too much about the vampires without giving away George R. R. Martin's particular take on these supernatural beings. I will tell you though that I was intrigued.
The internal conflicts that I've found in the vampires of certain other authors was also present here -- a veritable war within to try and keep a driving and consuming evil at bay. Beauty and the creation of beauty is an important theme in Fevre Dream. The deep longing to create beauty and great shame of the need that drives them to barbaric acts makes some of Martin's vampires quite sympathetic characters.
Martin interweaves commentary on slavery into his story in some rather surprising ways. What is not surprising is the truth of slavery, which the author does not let us avoid. He presents us with a world in which some are enslaved because they are different and therefore, somehow, lesser. He makes us look, with eyes wide open, at the acts of cruelty by those who would use and destroy others; those who would obliterate what someone else has created and would, without compunction, annihilate beauty for no better reason than their self perceived superiority and ability to do so.
Fevre Dream is an incredibly moving story of a desire for unity, dreams of immortality, and the legendary times of the steamboat era. If you are looking for another book to read for the R.I.P. challenge, I highly recommend Fevre Dream.
Below are just a few of my favorite bits ...
I read this description of York several times because I was so stunned by the author's ability to describe his character so poetically:
"Whatever thoughts he had had, whatever plans he had made, were sucked up in the maelstrom of York's eyes. Boy and old man and dandy and foreigner, all those were gone in an instant, and there was only York, the man himself, the power of him, the dream, the intensity.
York's eyes were gray, startlingly dark in such a pale face. His pupils were pinpoints, burning black, and they reached right into Marsh and weighed the soul inside him. The gray around them seemed alive, moving like fog on the river on a dark night, when the banks vanish and the lights vanish and there is nothing in the world but your boat and the river and the fog. In those mists, Abner Marsh saw things; visions swift-glimpsed and then gone. There was a cool intelligence peering out of those mists. But there was a beast as well, dark and frightening, chained and angry, raging at the fog. Laughter and loneliness and cruel passion; York had all of that in his eyes." pp. 2-3
I don't have any particular interest in steamboats from the 1850s, but this description is absolutely beautiful and truly took my breath away:
"Where is our boat, then?"
Come this way," Marsh said, gesturing broadly with his walking stick. He led them half across the boatyard. "There," he said, pointing.
The mists gave way for them, and there she stood, high and proud, dwarfing all the other boats around her. Her cabins and rails gleamed with fresh paint pale as snow, bright even in the gray shroud of fog. 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. Her chimneys, twin pillars that stood just forward of the texas deck, rose up a hundred feet, black and straight and haughty. Their feathered tops bloomed like two dark metal flowers. Her hull was slender and seemed to go on forever, with her stern obscured by the fog. Like all the first-class boats, she was was a side-wheeler. Set amidship, the huge curved wheelhouses loomed gigantic hinting at the vast power of the paddle wheels concealed within them. They seemed all the larger for want of the name that would soon be emblazoned across them.
In the night and the fog, amid all those smaller plainer boats, she seemed a vision, a white phantom from some riverman's dream. She took the breath away ..." p. 21
The rot of the South; rot under the beauty:
"By their seventh night in New Orleans, Abner Marsh felt strangely sick of the city, and anxious to be off. That night Joshua York came down to supper with some river charts in his hand. Marsh had seen very little of his partner since the arrival. "How do you fancy New Orleans?" Marsh asked York as the other seated himself.
"The city is lovely," York replied in an oddly troubled voice that made Marsh look up from the roll he was buttering. "I have nothing but admiration for the Vieux Carre. It is utterly unlike the other river towns we've seen, almost European, and some of the houses in the American section are grand as well. Nonetheless, I do not like it here."
Marsh frowned. "Why's that?"
"I have a bad feeling, Abner. This city -- the heat, the bright colors, the smells, the slaves -- it is very alive, this New Orleans, but inside I think it is rotten with sickness. Everything is so rich and beautiful here, the cuisine, the manners, the architecture, but beneath that ..." He shook his head. "You see all those lovely courtyards, each boasting an exquisite well. And then you see the teamsters selling river water from barrels, and you realize that the well water is unfit to drink. You savor the rich sauces and spices of the food, and then you learn that the spices are intended to disguise the fact that the meat is going bad. You wander through the St. Louis and cast your eyes upon all that marble and that delightful dome with the light pouring through it down onto the rotunda, and then you learn it is a famous slave mart where humans are sold like cattle. Even the graveyards are places of beauty here. No simple tombstones or wooden crosses, but great marble mausoleums, each prouder than the last, with statuary atop them and fine poetic sentiments inscribed in stone. But inside every one is a rotting corpse, full of maggots and worms. They must be imprisoned in stone beacause the ground is no good even for burying, and graves fill up with water. And pestilence hangs over this beautiful city like a pall.
"No, Abner," Joshua said with an odd, distant look in his gray eyes, "I love beauty, but sometimes a thing lovely to behold conceals vileness and evil within." pp. 114-115
This is another book not on my challenge list, but will count as one of my reads for the R.I.P. V Challenge.