R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream stands out as one of the better vampire horrors I've read. We're stepping back to the early 1980s with this particular one. The novel takes place on the mid-America rivers during the age of the steamboats - gorgeously built and beautifully crafted works of floating art during the middle 1800s.
Captain Marsh, the main protagonist of the story, is a steamboat captain who built up a network of boats that ran the upper Mississippi line. His Fevre River Packets company served as a middle-major player in the shipping business along these grand rivers - both for freight and people moving. But when a sudden freezing wrecks all but one of his steamboats, he hits dire straits both financially and personally.
A mysterious businessman, Joshua York, offers to provide the monetary backing to build a new steamboat unlike any that Marsh has ever commanded. The Fevre Dream is built, and it rivals even the greatest steamboats on both the upper and lower rivers of the country. But as the tale unfolds, more and more is learned of the mysterious Joshua York - he only comes out of his cabin at night, he keeps strange newspaper clippings of weird deaths along the river and his friends are unusual and not mildly disconcerting.
Yes, Joshua is a vampire. But Martin throws in a twist to the tale and takes liberties with the original vampire mythology by creating the race more as an alternative to humans than an alternative to the living. York's discovery of an alcoholic beverage that holds at bay the "red thirst" curse of the vampire race adds to the mystique and infuses York as a "good guy," forcing Marsh to find himself unwillingly on this strange businessman's side not only financially but morally as well.
As the story begins it's easy to pick out the antagonists and protagonists. But as the story progresses, many issues make the job of defining the two groups difficult. Martin's subtle change to the vampire legends give the book a romantic twist, really delving deeply into some of the character's heads and developing them increasingly and more powerfully. This creates a feeling of pure joy when some of the darker people - Sour Billy Tipton for example - find themselves "getting theirs."
While Fevre Dream does tend to run long - it could have been shortened with a stronger editor's hand. But the romanticism and moodiness of the overall novel might have been damaged by such, so maybe it was a good thing that it was as long as it was, floating from one happening to another just like the steamboat as it floated downstream. I really enjoyed the historical nature of the steamboat era backdrop as well. Finally, the ending of Fevre Dream was extremely well written and closes the novel with aplomb.
"Fevre Dream" by George R.R. Martin
Pocket Books / Simon Schuster, Inc.
Copyright © 1982 by George R. R. Martin