While George R. R. Martin has come to wider public attention via the TV adaptation of his A Song of Ice and Fire novels (HBO’s Game of Thrones), medieval fantasy isn’t his only exploration of genre fiction. The novel Fevre Dream, adapted here by Daniel Abraham and Rafa Lopez, was written over a decade before, and is a gothic vampire story, set in steamboat era Mississipi.
The plot revolves around a failing riverboat captain, who finds himself given the paddle steamer of his dreams in exchange for a no-questions-asked captaincy for his nocturnal passengers. A power struggle between rival groups of vampires ensues and things quickly dissolve into spectacularly dark horror. On the way the story has numerous twists and turns, which, as usual, I’m not going to spoil for you here. But think serious bloodshed, moral bankruptcy and a sophisticated, adult plot and you won’t be far off the mark.
It’s the setting that makes this really interesting though. By placing his vampires amongst the true horror of slavery, where human rights were at something of an all time low, it can be hard to work out who is the most evil. The vampires consider all humans to be cattle, a source of sustenance and nothing more. Their numbers are few and only the worst of them are particularly cruel to their prey before slaughtering and devouring it. The humans, on the other hand, are enslaving one another, binding fellow men and women into a short lifetime of hard labour, based on nothing more than the colour of their skin.
Lopez’s artwork is bold and fits the book well. While it lacks sophistication in places there’s enough to it to carry the drama of the story, and it doesn’t shy away from the necessary horror and gore required of a modern vampire tale.
Art and story come together into a book that’s more sophisticated than most genre fiction, with levels of depth that, if you want them to, can leave you thinking deeper than you might expect. It’s also a great story. The ending feels a bit rushed through, as if the adaptation ran out of space, though I haven’t read the novel so can’t comment on whether that’s true to the original or not. It’s a relatively minor niggle though, when the journey through the book is so bold and stylish. A truly gripping read.