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Literature / Fevre Dream

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Fevre Dream is a 1982 Historical Fiction Vampire Fantasy/Horror novel by George R. R. Martin, taking place on the Mississippi River during the golden age of steamboats.

The story begins with Abner Marsh, the owner of a small steamboat company, entering into a partnership with Joshua York, a mysterious stranger who helps him create the greatest steamboat on the Mississippi River, called the Fevre Dream. After the pair set sail on their maiden voyage, Marsh becomes frustrated with York's eccentric behavior, such as only coming out at night and making unscheduled stops in places where people have recently gone missing. As Marsh investigates further, he discovers dark forces at work along the river.

The novel is notable for its unconventional take on traditional subject matter as well as the copious amount of detail put into the setting.

Not to be confused with the Preston & Child novel Fever Dream.

This book provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Two slavers return runaway slaves to Julian, having tortured them into revealing their status and former owner. They get ripped apart by vampires.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The strongest vampire of a pack is acknowledged as the "bloodmaster," and at least apparently holds complete dominion over his underlings.
  • Author Appeal:
    • Marsh is a Big Eater, and the book includes a copious amount of Food Porn.
    • Steamboats in general as Martin had a brief obsession with them.
  • Badass Bookworm: Mr Jeffers, the ship's clerk, who sports gold-rimmed glasses, plays chess well, and is well read. He's also a formidable fencer.
  • Badass Crew: The core crew of "Fevre Dream": Abner Marsh, Mike Dunn, Mr. Jeffers, Toby... Sadly, they ain't badass enough to deal with the thousands-years-old vampire lord.
  • Beauty Is Bad: The vampires themselves, whose favoured victims are humans possessing youth and conventional beauty.
  • Big Bad: Damon Julian.
  • The Big Guy: Hairy Mike, the enormous and not particularly bright enforcer on the Fevre Dream.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Within the vampires' circle, it's stressed that many of them are not inherently bad people, but more slaves to the red thirst who kill for strength and sustenance rather than to derive any real pleasure from the act of murder. On the other hand, Julian's approach — which essentially boils down to genocide For the Evulz — has many eager followers.
  • Blade Enthusiast: Sour Billy always carries a trademark knife with him. He's very good at throwing it.
  • Blessed with Suck: Vampires, or "the night people," are far more powerful than their daylight brethren. However, because of their strength, they never bothered to invent technology or culture, causing them to eventually fall behind humans as a species. Being a vampire also carries with it a number of drawbacks, such as being burned by daylight and thirsting for blood.
  • Body Horror: Vampires are not a pretty sight after having been out in the sun.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Abner Marsh finishes Damon Julian with a point-blank headshot. From both shotgun barrels.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Jeffers is mentioned to have a Sword Cane early on. He uses it at about the halfway point of the novel.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Published by Avatar Press.
  • Cool Boat: The Fevre Dream itself. Designed to be the fastest steamboat on the river, as well as one of the most luxurious for its wealthy passengers. The abundance of silver and mirrors was also intended to help fight vampires.
  • Creative Sterility: Vampires do not make art, music, clothing, or architecture. They live entirely as parasites in the human race and didn't even have language when they first met up with humanity. The Red Thirst is primarily responsible for this as it prevents them from thinking of anything else. Joshua hopes to trigger a Renaissance for his people by curing it.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Sour Billy has distinctively malicious blue eyes.
  • Cruel Mercy:
    • Damon Julian loves this trope. He has a long history of abandoning his mortal thralls after their use evaporates, often in such a state that they simply cannot function without him, even if they're aware that they've been used and lied to.
    • He also does this with Joshua. Rather than kill his most treacherous underling, he bleeds and feeds upon him repeatedly to demean him, frequently defeats him in battles for the rank of bloodmaster, and was in the process of breaking his will through Marsh and Valerie too.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Hairy Mike versus Sour Billy. For all of Mike's strength, Billy kills him with a single throw.
  • Death by Childbirth: Vampire pregnancies are extraordinarily risky, as the vampire fetus will claw its way out of the mother, which is how Joshua's mother died. Among his reasons for wanting to establish a truce between vampires and humans is his belief that modern medicine can remove some of that risk, which could eventually threaten the survival of the race. This becomes extremely pressing once he successfully fathers a child himself.
  • Defector from Decadence: Valerie, who was living in fear of her bloodmaster, abandons Julian's cause and flees with Marsh and Joshua when the opportunity presents itself.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: It takes place around the time of the American Civil War, so characters display the expected attitudes about race. In the beginning of the story, Marsh expresses distaste for slavery, but also for abolitionists due to their Activist-Fundamentalist Antics. Various characters drop copious N-bombs.
  • The Determinator: Marsh, Joshua, and Billy. Julian too, though only when his beast has stirred.
  • Enemy Within: All vampires suffer the onset of the red thirst, except Damon Julian, who was old enough to outlive it.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Vampires are often preceded by a chilling cold.
  • Evil Is Petty: Billy and Julian are both guilty of this for different reasons.
  • Evil Only Has to Win Once: A complete inversion: Julian repeatedly defeats and demeans Joshua, and enjoys several years of life unopposed after taking over the Fevre Dream. However, the one time Joshua had defeated him in a bid for control haunts Julian, and the nature of this victory proves to be Julian's undoing when Marsh realizes why it had happened.
  • Eye Scream: Sour Billy Tipton puts out one of Damon's eyes during the final battle, and after Joshua tears him apart, he rips out his other eye as an offering once his will breaks.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Katherine, one of York's group, enthusiastically goes over to Julian's when she has a chance.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Vampires traditionally call humans "cattle." Joshua is embarrassed by this fact.
  • Friendly Neighbourhood Vampire: Joshua York and his companions. They drink a potion invented by York that quenches their thirst for human blood.
  • Fur Against Fang: Averted, Joshua says werewolf is just another word for what vampires are.
  • Gonk:
    • Abner Marsh has warts, bad teeth, a pug nose, squinty eyes, and a scruffy beard. He's fat at the beginning of the book; later, he loses weight and ends up being all the uglier by virtue of being saggy-looking.
    • Sour Billy Tipton, an ugly and unsavory man with malicious eyes.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Valerie and Jean, two of Julian's group, join Joshua willingly and believe him to be some sort of vampire messiah.
  • Hope Spot: A couple happen in the novel with Joshua and Abner escaping the Fevre Dream after Julian's takeover, only for Joshua to head back. Then Joshua mentions he defeated Julian once but only for two months until he lost again.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: On the Good Guys' side, Mr Jeffers fills this role for Abner Marsh. Sour Billy Tipton does everything for Julian.
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Damon controls his vampire entourage through a variety of methods. Some flock to him out of preference, others obey him out of respect and/or fear for the bloodmaster, while others do so out of tradition: it's unheard of for a vampire to oppose the bloodmaster. He controls Billy through False Reassurance and Working for a Body Upgrade, evoking Undying Loyalty. It's implied he's done this to a long line of chosen human servants in the past.
  • Insistent Terminology: Abner insists that Julian refer to the Fevre Dream as a "her" instead of an "it."
  • Left Hanging: We never do find out how Joshua fared as the undisputed bloodmaster, and whether or not he succeeded in his goal to bridge the gap between humans and vampires. The "dark city" and such myths of a vampire paradise are not alluded to again either, and it's unknown what became of Joshua's child. All we know is that Joshua visits Marsh's grave a century after his death, and other 'visitors' go to the grave less frequently. This suggests that Joshua probably succeeded in forming some form of vampire society which pays its respects to its co-founder.
  • Logical Weakness: While sunlight is their greatest weakness, some mundane attack methods can bypass vampires' quick healing, as they are still living creatures in this setting.
    • Vampires here still need oxygen, just like humans, so Joshua confirms that they can drown.
    • Vampires can only heal if given the chance, so fire is a useful weapon against them. Two engine workers throw Katherine into the Fevre Dream's furnace to end her.
    • Decapitation or destruction of the brain can kill a vampire as effectively as it will kill a human. Damon Julian meets his maker when Abner blows his head off with a double-barreled shotgun.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Julian, very much so. Joshua himself too, with a tragic example in his backstory.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Fevre Dream is both ominous and hopeful. It's a homophone for "fever dream," a mad vision. York wants to use the boat to fulfill his vision of uniting his people, while Abner wants to fulfill his vision of defeating the fastest boat on the Mississippi.
    • Eclipse is the name of the reigning champion riverboat. Its name deals with darkness and daylight, both of which pertain to vampires. Abner also dreams of "eclipsing" the boat with Fevre Dream.
  • More than Mind Control: Vampires possess an innate personal intensity and magnetism (often described as being exercised through their eyes) that allows them to easily prey upon humans' minds and wills.
  • Motivational Lie: Joshua tells Abner that Julian intends to return the Fevre Dream to the river to continue his carnage again. Abner points out a riverboat lasts less than 10 years with good care, the Fevre Dream has been grounded for 13 years with zero maintenance. Joshua confesses he wants to kill Julian for good because he's managed to father a child.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Discussed. York doesn't like the sound of "Fevre Dream," thinking that it brings to mind fever and madness. It's named for the Fevre River, which is itself named simply for the French word for beans (fève).
  • Odd Friendship: Hot-Blooded, bluff Abner Marsh, and cultured, poetry-loving vampire Joshua York, who are Heterosexual Life-Partners by the end of the book.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're living beings who reproduce sexually and drink on blood to slake an addiction rather than for food. They have none of the typical vampire weaknesses except for sunlight, which burns them and will kill them after a few hours, although some mundane methods can kill them. They have superhuman strength, speed and toughness, and can enforce their will through their gaze. If they are not completely immortal, they can at least remain youthful for thousands of years.
    • The Red Thirst also has multiple triggers. It tends to wax and wane in a lunar cycle (though not necessarily in time with the moon), but vampires will feel it more strongly when they see a beautiful human or are in pain.
    • Joshua is the first vampire to have dissected a peer (and his own removed body parts). He finds that vampire blood is less oxidised and paler than human blood unless the vampire has recently fed. They also have extremely disparate anatomies, including three organs that Joshua could not guess the purpose for, and two stomachs (one for blood and one for normal food and drink).
  • Really 700 Years Old: All of the vampires are Older Than They Look, though Damon Julian is old enough to have seen the fall of Rome and even outlived the red thirst.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Valerie, who dies shortly after abandoning Julian's cause.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Damon Julian and Joshua York. They even wear corresponding colors most of the time and paint the Fevre Dream accordingly.
  • Serious Business: Steamboat racing. Abner's greatest goal in life is to race and defeat the Eclipse. He's incredibly distraught when he learns that the Eclipse has been junked. Even though he has no more boats to race, it's the final death knell of his dream. He has a picture of Fevre Dream defeating Eclipse on his tombstone.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Joshua invokes this when speaking of the nature of his race. He also personally explored it at length in his backstory, in order to see which legends were true and which were false.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Both Joshua and Julian.
  • Time Abyss: Damon Julian is ancient even by vampire standards. He's gone by countless names over the ages, but has no real name, because he was born before vampires had language.
  • Timeskip: Most of the book takes place in 1857, but the last quarter of the book takes place in 1870. The epilogue takes place decades later, after Abner's death.
  • Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain: Abner Marsh and Damon Julian.
  • Undying Loyalty: Billy to Julian, whom he believes will turn him into a vampire for his faithful service. Also, Simon to Joshua.
  • The Un-Favourite: Jean is Julian's least favoured underling, due in part to his inability to properly moderate his thirst for blood. Jean was also particularly grateful to Joshua for finding a way to rid him of the thirst. Julian implicitly sends him to his death, swapping cabins with him after suspecting Marsh would come to kill him.
  • The Unfought: The "Fevre Dream vs Eclipse" ends up not happening after the Eclipse suffers an accident. Later, the Fevre Dream itself ends up grounded for more than a decade, making it unsalvageable.
  • Unstoppable Rage: When properly motivated, vampires can fly into a savage fury, the Red Thirst, where they become impossibly strong. During the final battle between Joshua and Julian, Abner sees that Joshua is about to lose... so he shoots Joshua in the side. The pain sends him into the Red Thirst, and he proceeds to obliterate Julian.
  • Verbal Tic: Julian tends to preface his dialogue with an amused "Ah."
  • Villain Has a Point: Julian points out to Marsh that dismissing his belief in the superiority of the vampire race giving them unlimited rights over humanity is hypocritical — after all, they're in the Antebellum South, where within one species the 'superior' race has unlimited power over the 'inferior'. Marsh admits he's right — and becomes an abolitionist.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Abner just shoots Sour Billy mid-sentence before giving him a chance to snark or throw his knife.