George R. R. Martin, Fevre Dream (Poseidon, 1982)
[originally posted 2Nov2001]
It would be unfair to say that after reading A Song of Ice and Fire’s first three novels, Fevre Dream was a disappointment; it’s unfair to expect any novelist, with the arguable exception of Clive Barker, to live up to ASoIaF’s standards all the time. And to be fair, Fevre Dream is original from beginning to end and quite well-written.
Abner Marsh is that most useless of things, a riverboatman who has had a string of disasters happen to his riverboats. As the novel opens, he is on the verge of bankruptcy, with only one small ship left to his name. Enter Joshua York, a mysterious foreigner who approaches Marsh with a dream to build the largest, fastest steamship of all time. Meanwhile, in the Mississippi delta, we’re introduced to one Sour Billy Tipton, a very unlikable chap who works for an even more unlikable chap named Damon Julian. As with all parallel stories, we know that these two are bound to cross at one point and, as also with most parallel stories, we know complications will ensue soon afterwards.
The logical conclusion to draw from the pacing of A Song of Ice and Fire is that, given a shorter novel, Martin will pace it more quickly. Such turns out not to be the case, and there are portions of Fevre Dream that laze along at the same general speed as a bumblebee during New Orleans’ summer rainy season. Still, it never gets slow enough to be abandonable, and Martin’s facility with characterization is such that the book remains interesting from beginning to end. A more aggressive editor taking out ten or twenty pages of filler might have improved it somewhat, but it stands well enough in its present form. Something to tide you over until Book Four of A Song… comes out. ** ½