Having just finished A Dance with Dragons, I was pleased and a bit surprised to see a George R.R. Martin paperback in the book stand at the grocery checkout this spring. I bought it, in a fit of heady impulse purchasing pique, and… found it was not very much like the A Song of Ice and Fire series at all.
Fevre Dream was written in 1982, and is a vampire novel set in the pre-Civil War Southern United States. It is largely set on the Mississippi River, and centers on the steamboat trade along the river. Captain Abner Marsh is an excellent captain, but has largely lost his fleet of steamboats through bad luck, and so is at a loss both financially and in terms of his reputation. He meets Joshua York, a rich gentleman who only comes out at night, who promises to make Marsh’s dreams come true, as long as he doesn’t ask any questions of York. Of course, Marsh is no fool and knows it is too good to be true, but is willing to make the deal to get what he really wants. Here, Martin seems to introduce the ideas around trust and power that are later fleshed out in A Song of Ice and Fire.
I haven’t even read that cursed Twilight series, and yet it continues to push itself into my cultural consciousness,
ruining affecting how I read other, better books. When I was reading Fevre Dream, I could not help but think about how Stephanie Meyer’s vampires with a conscience had predecessors. Vampire York feels guilty about how vampires treat humans as though they were farm animals; through scientific experimentation, he found a way to live without feeding on humans. Better living through chemistry! Other parallels include battles between vampire groups with differing moralities, vampire reproduction, and hiding in plain sight. I can only vaguely compare the two, but think that Martin’s characterizations are not as cliche as are Meyer’s and he seems to give a bit of an explanation for a non-traditional way reproducing vampires, although it still did make me roll my eyes a little as I read it. Truthfully, his version of vampires are a little different from the traditional altogether, some parts of which worked better than others for me.
While the dialogue didn’t feel quite as polished as it does in later Martin, the book has the same attention to setting and mood as does Game of Thrones. The description of the river boats and the travels along the Mississippi are nicely detailed, and he describes the politics and culture of the time in an almost off-hand manner, keeping the focus on the story itself. Martin’s willingness to kill off his characters seems to have been an early trait of his as well, which is kind of reassuring in a horror/fantasy novel. Although it was nominated for a few awards when it was first published in 1982, I did not really love it as I do other Martin works.