The latest book to be offered up for reading was by George R.R Martin, the modern day uncrowned king of fantasy. While much attention is of course given to A Game of Thrones and its TV spin-off, Martin has of late looked into his back-catalogue from the 80s and 90s, and has published a few bits here and there. One of these is Fevre Dream.
The Blurb doesn’t give away too much as to what this book has waiting for the reader, with a short synopsis only telling us a man named Abner Marsh runs a steam ship company in the 1850s, and a new client is hoping to help him build the ship of his dreams.
Soon into the book, we see the captain and his financier have different ideas in mind for their new boat. Abner Marsh wants a ship that will be famed all along the Mississippi-with a speed that will outmatch names like The Southerner and The Eclipse. On the other hand, the enigmatic but curious Joshua York talks little of profit and fame. His orders to Captain Marsh are simple; to give him a boat where he will be captain,where his odd hours are not questioned and where his word is absolute. And with that, the Fevre Dream is born, with all its 19th century splendour. But soon strange tales are spreading between sailors. There is talk of a captain, who never sees the light of day, but always comes out at night. His skin is pale as moonlight, and the company he keeps are equally as queer. And with river talk sufficient to ruin any ship, no matter what its grandeur, in time Abner Marsh has to come face to face with the man who is now his partner.
This book is a fitting testimony to Martin’s versatility within the fantasy genre. What strikes the reader first is the author’s unquestionable dedication to research. By the end of the first chapter, we have already been hurled back a hundred and fifty years in time, to a world where slavery is still rife, and talk of abolition is starting to stir. Here Martin also begins to show how much he has looked into the supernatural world, even going so far as to poke holes where he sees fit and strike up new definitions. Unlike other fantasy novels, where going against the grain is often perilous and amateur, here it feels really under control.
The book starts at a good time, with the exposition nearly completely finished in the first chapter and the plot opening up almost right away. The first half of the book is gripping, as the mystery surrounding Joshua York begins to unravel, re-wind and then fall apart again. The second half of the book feels a slight bit different. A small climax came near the mid-point, and so after that I really felt I should have been out the gap and on to another book rather than plodding further along. I think a small portion of the narrative dragged, as it didn’t seem to flow as the reader expected, with a lot of the twists coming off as unrealistic. It was at this point that it suddenly dawned on me who wrote the book. Then I got depressed, as each gut punch from Martin came bit-by-bit, slowly showing me that what I wanted for this book was not what I was gonna get. Old habits die hard, they say, and I guess here it was pretty evident.
The real finish did give me some bit of satisfaction with the novel, and had it come earlier it might have been the perfect ending. But how the author worked the whole story probably meant he had to have a prolonged ending, so I guess he is justified in that sense. This is 100% the type of book where much can’t be said without ruining it, so I’ll close with the above. Highly recommend it as a read, especially if you enjoy Martin’s writing.