Review ~ Fevre Dream

Cover via Goodreads

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something’s amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.

Marsh meant to turn down York’s offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve—coupled with the terrible force of York’s mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare…and mankind’s most impossible dream.

Here is the spellbinding tale of a vampire’s quest to unite his race with humanity, of a garrulous riverman’s dream of immortality, and of the undying legends of the steamboat era and a majestic, ancient river. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I had heard several times that George R. R. Martin’s vampire novel was quite good. The back cover blurb of my edition is a quote by Harlan Ellison.

In 1990 or so, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire showed up on my mom’s bookshelf via the Science Fiction Book of the Month Club. I have a feeling that it was a “forgot to turn it down” book because my mom didn’t (until then) read horror. We both read it and we both went a bit nuts for it and vampires. We read all of Anne Rice’s books, Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula books (and of course Dracula), just about everything Chelsea Quinn Yarbro wrote, Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt the Night, John Steakley’s Vampire$, and so many others. But George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream was no where to be found at our mall’s Walden Books or our public library.

What Worked
Martin does a good job putting a spin on vampire mythology and presenting a vampire who is trying to have a choice in his destiny without being utterly emo about it. Abner Marsh is our outsider-looking-in on this culture/species. He’s crusty and jaded and doesn’t ask too many questions, at least at first. It is his inevitable curiosity that causes him to ultimately care about Julian as well as Fevre Dream.

I really enjoyed the setting. Setting is one of those factors that can make or break a book for me. Reading this in 2019 means I’m experiencing it in the shadow of Interview of the Vampire with its wisteria-clad New Orleans. Fevre Dream is set somewhat in New Orleans, but more up and down the Mississippi River and especially on the riverboat itself. There is also a lot of talk about food. Abner March likes to eat. I can relate and I not-surprisingly appreciated all the food details.

I read part of this book in mass market paperback, but listened to most of it in audio book form. It was read Ron Donachie, who I wasn’t very familiar with, but has been in everything. He does a great job.

What Didn’t Work
There were a couple of really talky parts. I don’t believe that showing is always better than telling, but oof. Past the mid-point of the novel there is section where a good deal of time goes by. Between what Abner did during this time period and his subsequent catch-up with Joshua, there is a very large passage of summing up. I get that it’s necessary, but it’s kind of dry.

While I didn’t have a problem with this, readers might want to be aware that race is a bit of an issue and these are the 1850s. The N-word is used quite liberally, as certain characters would use it. Also, if you have any qualms about child-endangerment, one of the most graphic scenes includes a baby. I don’t dink Martin for this, but I understand that it’s a delicate point for many readers.

Overall
It had been a while since I’d read any vampire fiction. I’m glad Fevre Dream lived up to its reputation, and I should probably loan my mom the book.

Original Publishing info: Poseidon Press, 1982
My Copy: Mass market paperback (Pocket Books 1983), Book Mooch & Audio (Penguin Random House Audio 2012), Greater Phoenix Digital Library
Genre: horror

Spring into Horror Wrap-Up & Mini Reviews

April was a little…off for me. Or maybe, rather, I was a little off in April. I didn’t get going on Camp NaNoWriMo and my reading was kind of here and there. Even Dewey’s Readathon was sort of flat.

On the horror front, I only read one thing on my initial TBR: Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart and *that* I started on the 28th! Looking back over what qualifies for Spring into Horror, though, I didn’t do too badly.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark cover I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

If “scary” is really the only qualification for Spring into Horror, this nonfiction work should certainly count. I gave it a full review a couple weeks back.

Hammers on Bone cover Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

This is the first in Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series. I read the second one, A Song for Quiet, as my first book of the year. I really enjoyed it, but I think I liked Hammers on Bone even more.

Generally, I don’t care for Lovecraft or the Lovecraft mythos. Also, I  have never been fond on noir mysteries/thrillers. But Khaw writes with so much easy flair that I really want more of this combination. At the heart of the story is our private investigator, John Persons. He’s a monster. No really, he’s an eldritch horror in a human skin, but one with more wit and warmth than any other hardboiled dick.

Hellbound Heart cover The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Like Stephen King, I like Clive Barker in smaller doses. His novels get a little too… baroque. But in short story and novella form, I think his world building works much better, allowing for our own imaginations to happily do work.

The Hellbound Heart was the basis for the movie, Hellraiser. The movie is pretty close to the book. This isn’t surprising since Barker wrote and directed it. It has spawned nine (!) sequels, but it’s interesting to note that Pinhead, the films’ signature villain, is only one of the Engineer’s retinue. I think what really stands out for me is how grounded in a place the story is, even though it could take place anywhere. The house, Frank’s room, these are all given the weight that would be part of a haunted house story.

Unabridged Poe cover Poe & Short Stories

I started my Edgar Allan Poe read-through in April. Mostly I’ve read through some of his early poetry. While that includes the classic “Alone,” it’s also some not-so-great poems.

I’ve also been reading through an anthology of mystery stories by Baroness Orczy (the writer of The Scarlet Pimpernel). They feature Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, an early female detective.

Deal Me In, Week 12 ~ “White Goddess”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“White Goddess” by Margaret St. Clair

Card picked: 4
Found at: More Stories Not for the Nervous

It was somehow less nerve-wracking to think of her as a young woman in disguise than an old woman who moved and spoke like somebody in her twenties.

Carson is a small-time con man and thief. His modus operandi is flattering little old ladies into getting them to take him home for tea-and-cakes and then stealing their silverware. But Miss Smith is not quite what she seems. And the baubles, that Carson wouldn’t even be able to pawn, might eventually be his prison.

I haven’t quite gotten my thumb on what these stories-not-for-the-nervous are supposed to be. Mysteries? Horror? Hard-boiled crime? So far, they’ve been all of the above. I’m not familiar with Margaret  St. Clair. Apparently, she is a pioneer of science fiction, which would explain why this little dark fantasy story was originally published under the pseudonym, Idris Seabright.

The Black Cat, No. 5, February 1896

Welcome to the fifth issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

Happily, no. 5 was not missing pages, though some of the scanning was iffy.

Stories

“The Mysterious Card” by Cleveland Moffett

While in Paris, Richard Burwell is given a card written in purple ink by a beautiful woman. Burwell doesn’t read French and everyone he shows the card to has a very bad reaction to it. He’s driven from his hotel and ultimately from France. When he shows it to his wife and his best childhood friend, they both disown him. And alas, the beautiful woman dies before she can tell him the meaning of it. It’s all very melodramatic. Cleveland Moffett was a journalist and writer of some note. “The Mysterious Card” was his first story and brought him some note mainly due to the unresolved aspect of the mystery. Alas, the literary shenanigans don’t work for me.

“Tang-u” by Lawrence E. Adams

Tang-u is a Chinese boy who ends up on a Japanese naval ship (during, I assume, the First Sino-Japanese War). He is of rat-catcher “heritage” which means his eyes are very keen even in the dark. And this is the brief story of how he becomes an honorary admiral in the Japanese navy due to those attributes.

“The Little Brown Mole” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

A friend finds Mr. Paul Fancourt in a state. What’s wrong? Fancourt tells of his marriage to the lovely and tempestuous Leila. His wife’s temper drove him away for five years and, when he returned, Leila was a different woman. Possibly quite literally.  This is Clarice Clinghan’s second story for The Black Cat. Her first, “The Wedding Tombstone,” was my favorite of issue no. 2.

This was my favorite of the month.

“The Telepathic Wooing” by James Buckham

Another tale of love for this February issue of The Black Cat. Dr. Amsden is hopelessly in love with Miriam Foote. Despite being quite good-looking, Amsden is terribly shy around women and can’t approach Miriam. Instead, he chooses an unconventional manner of “wooing” her: lucid dreaming. This is Buckham’s second story for the Cat. His first was the photographic evidence story “The Missing Link.”

“The Prince Ward” by Claude M. Girardeau

“The Prince Ward” was the longest story of the issue, a spine-tingling tale about a haunted hospital ward. Often hospital hauntings is due to, not surprisingly, the suffering and death of sick people, but here Girardeau gives us a spurned wife who is surprisingly sick and suddenly dies. There are maybe shades of Charlotte Perkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper” and a few chilling moments, but the writing is very clunky.

 “A Meeting of Royalty” by Margaret Dodge

The Great Man, a young train baron, is visited by a little girl who is wandering around the train while they are delayed at the station. The little girl is dressed as a princess (which I thought was a much more modern thing). She tells the Great Man about the Queen she knows who is very sad. Of course, the Queen isn’t a queen, she’s an actress. But she is sad—the train delay will cause them to miss an important performance and she’s has a lost love who looked down on her career because he’s a business man, but she misses him. The Great Man realizes that he knows who the Queen is and what he can do to make her happy.

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No ads in this issue, but at least the issue was complete!

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 5, February 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

#DealMeIn2019, Week 2 ~ “A Dog’s Story”

“A Dog’s Story” by Gardner Dozois

Card Picked: 3♥
From: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July-August 2017

He was old, and his hip hurt him these days, and he had long ago quit bothering to bark at cars, but his still-restless spirit wouldn’t let him go to sleep without tasting the night…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a tale titled “A Dog’s Story” in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There are some fantastical elements to it, but also a dollop of horror.

During the course of his night wanderings, Blackie finds the body of a murdered young woman in an alley. She reminds him of his special human Emily, who has been gone for several years. It’s implied that Emily has died; Blackie’s current human has been listless since Emily has been gone, but as a dog, Blackie only know that there is no more Emily. He decides that some justice should be done for this woman. His nose isn’t good enough to track the killer, nor would he be able to attack the man once he’s found, but Blackie is old enough to know other animals, like Talking Pete, a geriatric cat who knows many languages and can talk to the city’s rats. Through favors and deals, justice will be served.

This is a slip of a story, only just over 1500 words. (I love that F&SF includes word counts.) I can imagine that other writers would do more with the other animals, but indeed, this is a dog’s story and Blackie gets all the screen time.

Review ~ A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet (Persons Non Grata, #2)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can’t escape, and music that won’t let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn’t call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods.

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it any more.

Why did I choose this book?

Undeniably, H. P. Lovecraft was very influential to the genres of horror and fantasy. He was also racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic. I like the concept of all the people Lovecraft took exception to jumping into his sandbox and adding wings to his castles. I really enjoyed Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and had heard that Malaysian writer Cassandra Khaw’s A Song for Quiet is another worthy addition to this genre niche.

Ladies of Horror Fiction challenged readers to make their first read of 2019 a female horror author—it was the perfect “excuse” to read A Song for Quiet.

So, what did I think?

Khaw imbues her writing with rhythm which is very appropriate when the main character is a jazz musician. I also enjoyed the little Lovecraft subversions: things like a white cowboy character being described as simian and Arkham being a progressive enough place to allow a black female business owner.

Khaw also does a good job giving shape and physicality to what can often be vague cosmic horror. It’s easy to duck the unimaginable, but Deacon’s visions and the Thousand Young are good and gory. I also like that there is some small measure of hope in this story. I plan on reading more horror this year, but I am a little worried. I think that I have less patience for hopelessness these days.

I enjoyed A Song for Quiet so much that I’m going to have to read Hammers on Bone, the first book on the loose series, in the near future. The first features John Persons, a minor character here, who isn’t quite a person. I am intrigued.

Other Info

Genre: horror
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Release date: August 29, 2017
My copy: OverDrive Read via Tempe Library

#DealMeIn2018, Week 51 ~ “Uncle Abraham’s Romance”

“Uncle Abraham’s Romance” by Edith Nesbit

Card Picked: 2♣️ – WILD card
Found at: Grim Tales @ ProjectGutenberg

“There’s nothing to tell,” he said. “I think it was fancy, mostly, and folly; but it’s the realest thing in my long life, my dear.”

Since this was a WILD card, I figured I’d continue with my reading of Edith Nesbit’s Grim Tales.

Our narrator, age eighteen, sits at her uncle’s knee and waits for him to tell her about his one single romance. While he never married, he often sits and gazes at the miniature of a beautiful woman. Despite what he says, she knows there’s a story there.

Finally, he tells her of a lovely young woman that he used to speak to over the churchyard wall, who didn’t care about his lame leg. Of course, this being a Edith Nesbit story with a churchyard and a mysterious portrait, we can assume that the woman isn’t exactly what she seems (well, if you assumed she was just a lovely, understanding you woman in the first place).

Predictable, but in a satisfying way