Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

This novel came recommended by Jocelyn. Since we share an interest in George R. R. Martin, she suggested I try it. Overall, it was pretty good, although there were a few places in the story that didn't work for me. I'll be expecting a partial refund on my borrow sometime soon for the disappointing moments.

So what's it about? Basically, you have vampires, a steamboat named the Fevre Dream, an ornery old cuss of a captain named Abner Marsh, and their adventures along the Mississippi River during the late 1800's.

In vampire stories, you always have to wonder why people don't immediately pick up on who the vampires are. They are always described as lean, graceful, pale, with arresting eyes and a tendency to avoid doing things in the daytime. In the book, it is so obvious who the vampires are that it annoys me when the humans don't realize it. At least George R. R. Martin didn't try to hide what they were from the reader like some sort of mystery novel. They are obvious, but at least the author isn't attempting to be subtle and just failing.

Abner Marsh is a very interesting main character. He's a loud, big man with a gruff personality, and his charisma carries this story. He has his share of hard luck, but he's not stupid, and he winds up having a realistic share of both good and bad fortune. One of my favorite aspects of Martin's writing is that he really doesn't favor anyone. He'll get you to love some characters and hate others, but how you feel about them really doesn't effect how life treats them. In his novels, bad seems to happen in healthy doses for everyone, good and evil and in-between. Another great thing is that there are rarely people that are good or evil at all, they all have vices and face difficult situations that test them beyond their capabilities. And he's good at making characters suffer, oh yes, he is!

I think Martin also plays with foreshadowing excellently. You just know throughout the novel that at some point the Fevre Dream is going to race this other famously fast steamboat. It's the captain's dream, and alluded to often. But then, I was so pleasantly surprised when this obvious event never even comes close to taking place. Like, gotcha! Bet you thought all that foreshadowing was for some purpose, like movies do. Instead, all you have is unfulfilled desire, or wasted potential, both provocative feelings that serve instead to draw the reader into the emotions of the novel. Good stuff.

On the other hand, I felt like the vampires were a bit two-dimensional, and that both they and Abner Marsh occasionally acted in a manner inconsistent with themselves, or the reality of the world they are in. What I mean by this is not that they seem unrealistic by our world's standards - of course they are in this type of novel - but that they don't seem to fit in with the reality of their own background, and that dissatisfies me. I understood why: events had to transpire the way they did or else the plot couldn't have happened like it did. But in two instances I found that characters seemed to be acting in an unrealistic manner. First was when Marsh accepts York's mysterious proposal at the beginning of the novel. Marsh doesn't seem like the type to make rash decisions blindly, yet he does here, and even goes so far as to agree that he will not question any strange things York does. I'm sure that he would really have said no, greed or not, but instead he does so that the plot can happen. The second instance is when York tells Marsh his story, and asks to not be interrupted because blah blah blah, and then an entire chapter is York's story (and a pretty unlikely one it is, for a vampire - I can't recall whether later or not some of it was proven false; York did lie to Marsh a good bit). There's really no way Marsh would have just sat there and listened - he would have done something, or said something, or had some reaction. But instead, it's all related and then he coolly seems like "Hmm. I'll have to think about everything for a while." It had an ethereal quality to it, which drew me out of the story for a while. Awkward.

Still, it's an interesting mix of elements. Wakes up the mind a bit juxtaposing vampires and a riverboat, on a mysterious mission. There is plenty of gritty action, and there are tough characters with the right amount of humanity to seem realistic (most of the time). Martin understands life on the river to a degree where you can tell he must have either researched it or done it for a while. I felt like even if I had hated the story there would have been enough factual information to make the book good as a non-fiction glimpse into life on the Mississippi in the 1860's & 1870's. It's not overdone, but the world is well developed (well, it's ours, in a way, so it should be, but I learned from it - an added bonus)

One last thing, the way I imagine Abner is exactly what George R. R. Martin looks like. A big man with a full beard, I wonder if George was putting himself into the novel a little bit. Seriously, take a look at the author's webpage and see my idea of what Abner Marsh looks like. Well, maybe take off the glasses. But I wonder...
Fevre Dream
By: George R.R. Martin
Amazon Price: $16.00


Amanda said...

I wasn't aware you were a big fan of Martin. From your last review, it seemed like you didn't like him much, but i guess that was because it was a triple-authored book. What books by him have you read that you really liked.

Byron said...

Oh no. I think Martin is a great author. That book was just some kind of exception, probably because of the three authors. But I do have one other disappointment from him, and that is how long it is taking for him to write his A Song of Fire and Ice series, which is excellent. Very dark, hard, bleak books but so awesome. The problem is precisely because his books are so good that I don't want to wait, but he is taking so long!

I have also read a short story of his from earlier in his career, in a collection. I remember enjoying it, as it had some Poe-like darkness to it. If I recall, it was about a writer that receives portraits of three of his main characters that come to life and visit him at night. Like A Christmas Tale, only different demons to face, different faults to acknowledge. But I can't remember the name.

On facebook, I have joined this group, all in fun of course. Other posters are a bit rude, but I wanted to show, by joining, that I am one of his fans who would like him to please get out that next book. At least I don't pester him directly.

Byron said...

Wow. The tag at the bottom says this book is $125!?

Joc, I think I'm holding your copy for ransom!

Amanda said...

Whoops - Jase, I think you better fix the ad...

Unknown said...

No-no, if you click through it's only 90 through Amazon, WITH free super-saver shipping!

Anonymous said...

my theory is that the $125 price tag is due to the favorable review posted here at 5-Squared. it is well-known that we have that kind of influence on

Anonymous said...

I've heard good things about this novel from others on I haven't read it myself, but I'm a huge fan of Martin and am almost done with A Feast for Crows (finally). It's taken me a while to get through ASOIF. I was hoping to catch up before A Dance with Dragons, and it looks like I'll have plenty of time, as the fifth book has been pushed to Spring '09.

Have you read any of Martin's short stories? I hear a lot of good things about the Hedge Knight.

Byron said...

Spring 2009, ARGH!

I am prepared to reread the entire series when A Dance With Dragons comes out, just so I'll know what's going on at that point.

Yes, I've read a few of his short stories. I mentioned one I can't recall the name of in the second reply on this review, but I have also read tales of the hedge knight in Legends and Legends II edited by Robert Silverberg. Each of those compilations of short stories contains a hedge knight tale. I found them to be a good mix of humor, quirkiness, and valor.

Another occasional poster here, Jocelyn, has two books which are collections of his short stories. I think they are called Dreamsong(s), but perhaps I am remembering incorrectly. I am curious about them, and I am awaiting her review since she has said she is currently reading those short stories.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dreamsongs is a collection of his short stories. I think there are two volumes. I haven't read any of them yet. Be interested to know what you think if you do read them (and interested to know how you like ASOIF when you read the entire series).