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Content warnings: off-page sexual abuse of a minor, loss of a loved one, nationalism, racism, refugee crisis, suicide, xenophobia. A full list of content warnings can be found on Victoria’s website here.
“I would rather die than do nothing.”
Friends, there are some books that just suck you into their pages from the start and stay with you after you finish. The Fever King is one of those rare books. I was captivated from the first page and filled every spare moment I had with reading this amazing debut novel. For two days I started and ended my day reading The Fever King, and actually went to work an hour later than normal so I could finish the book yesterday. (and I absolutely hate having to stay after it gets dark!)
I honestly have no idea how to even find the words to review this book. The Fever King is an amazing debut fantasy/speculative fiction novel that takes place in the year 2123 in an alternative United States. I think for me the thing that stuck out the most about this was that the point of divergence into this possible future was 2019, and even though we don’t have outbreaks of magic spreading (that we know of) it feels so incredibly authentic. And that’s terrifying to me, and the best parts of science fiction. In this 2123 new countries exist but there is still the same hatred and nationalistic rhetoric that we are experiencing today.
Our protagonist is Noam Álvaro, immigrant’s rights activist and 16-year old son of undocumented immigrants living in the refugee slums of Carolinia. His world is turned upside down when he survives the outbreak of viral magic and becomes a witching. His survival and blood tests bring him under the attention of hero and Minister of Defense Calix Lehrer, who brings him under his wing and into Level IV to train.
“He was finally where he needed to be. Where he could use whatever powers the witchings taught him to undermine the foundations of their world and rebuild it into something new. Something better.”
Thrust into a world Noam not only doesn’t belong in but has openly fought against, he finds himself in a position to use his position to further the cause. This book offers a nuanced conversation about activism, nonviolent and violent protest, and how the line becomes blurred between acts of terror and revolution depending on who wins. I really liked how realistic this feels with the stakes of trusting people and possibly putting that trust in the wrong person. But the desire to do something. Anything. To help his people, and taking a chance.
“Everything worth doing had its risks.”
A major theme of this book is utilitarianism and whether the ends can justify the means. Caught between his head and his heart, Noam acts very much like I imagine 16-year old me would act in this situation: full of idealism and willing to do whatever it takes to make the world a better place. But he also struggles with it and starts to feel disillusioned as well. I like when my protagonists struggle and don’t act as if they have all the answers, and all of the character decisions felt authentic to me.
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
I absolutely loved the worldbuilding and how Lee slowly reveals information to the reader through the plot as well as the addition of some historical newspaper clippings and interviews to provide additional historical context so it doesn’t bog down the action of the present. She manages to toe the line perfectly, giving the reader enough to crave more but never too little to feel lost in a sea of details.
I cannot write a review about The Fever King without talking about the wonderful characters. All of them are three-dimensional and feel like real people. Even though one of his Level IV roommates, Taye, doesn’t have much of a role in this installment, he still felt just as real as the rest of the characters. Dara is a precious bean and must be protected at all costs.
“This had been his life. This had been his father’s life, and now it meant nothing. Noam had magic. He was one of them now.”
“Right. Because Dara had the luxury of finding such things surprising.”
The Fever King addresses privilege incredibly well. The circumstances of Noam’s survival and witching status brought him into a world that he didn’t belong in, and the differences were stark. His roommates all had been trained from a young age, are Carolinian, and generally come from more affluent backgrounds. Noam grew up in an old bookstore in the refugee zone and dropped out of school after the eight grade. They are from different worlds and through Dara’s eyes Noam sees how different they truly are.
“And Noam might pass for white, but Dara sure as hell didn’t, which, yeah.”
But despite that privilege, intersectionality also comes into play. I found it to be rather impactful to see this issue of race come into play, and how just because one may have had all sorts of benefits afforded to them in one area, it doesn’t mean that everything is easier or erases other struggles. It’s subtle in the narrative but was something I really appreciated.
“And I meant it when I said I wasn’t gay,” Noam said. Ames looked disbelieving, but she didn’t pull away. Noam smirked. “Bisexual isn’t gay.”
This book has a m/m romance, but I was so pleased to see Noam is bisexual and that the narrative succinctly touches on the fact that being with a person of one sex doesn’t erase bisexuality.
Overall this book is everything that I hoped it would be and more! The infection and outbreak reminded me of The Hot Zone, the nuance of trying to enact social change and creating a better world reminding me of The Handmaid’s Tale, and characters that I need to protect with all of my being. I liked that I never really knew who to trust and it felt like I was along for the ride alongside Noam… and that meant that as the stakes got higher, so did my anxiety! I cannot recommend this book enough.
DIDN’T THAT ENDING
WHY DID YOU DO THAT
ALSO: https://t.co/p3LmdpjjTy (read the reply too)
— Vicky Who Reads 🌸 (@VickyCBooks) February 26, 2019
What I hope to see explored in the next book
– I want to know more about the Catastrophe. Why did Lehrer abdicate? (Like really?)
– How are additional abilities developed? I just don’t get Lehrer in this context.
– I kind of wish i knew what the limits of magic were, how it works, where the virus itself comes from.
– Why aren’t they working on a cure?
– Wait apparently they occupied Atlantia?
Recommended for: readers that enjoy fantasy worlds with intricate worldbuilding, lovable and three-dimensional characters, and also delves into the nuances of activism, revolution, and history being written by the winners. This is a non-stop and action-filled read that looks into a speculative future that feels eerily like our own, where nationalism and xenophobia runs unchecked but the disenfranchised are determined to stand up.
REPRESENTATION: bisexual rep, black rep, diverse characters, Jewish rep, latinx rep, m/m romance
I purchased an early copy of this eBook as part of the Amazon First Reads program. If you are in the US, you can get this book early for $1.99 (free if you are a Prime member) before February 28, 2019! The Fever King will be available in the US on March 1, 2019!
In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.
Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.