I first became aware of George R.R. Martin’s vampire novel from a review Kurt MacPhearson wrote for Tales of the Talisman Magazine back in 2010. His enthusiasm for Fevre Dream caused me to put it on my to-read list. I finally had a chance to dive in and my only real regret is that I waited so long to read the book.
Starting in 1857, Fevre Dream tells the story of Abner Marsh, owner of a small steamboat company in St. Louis, who lost most of his boats the previous winter when they were crushed by ice during an unusually harsh winter. A stranger named Joshua York shows up on his doorstep and offers to buy half the company and gives Abner enough money to build his dream steamboat, which Abner calls the Fevre Dream after the river which flowed by his home town. The Fevre Dream sets off down the Mississippi with Marsh and York serving as co-captains. It soon becomes apparent that York only appears at night. What’s more, York insists that the steamboat make many stops on its journey where he will disappear for days at a time. Meanwhile, on a plantation near New Orleans, we meet Damon Julian, leader of a vampire nest. A human thrall named Sour Billy Tipton buys slaves and brings them to the plantation for the vampires to drain dry. It soon becomes clear that Marsh, York, and Julian are heading toward a confrontation. Martin offers some twists and turns that kept me guessing about the exact nature of the confrontation.
I loved Martin’s description of steamboats. The places the Fevre Dream visits in the novel came to life through his writing. Martin also did a great job of creating vampires that felt like they could be real creatures who exist in the world we know. Also, instead of simply dismissing vampire mythology as so much nonsense, as many other writers did in the 1980s and 1990s, he lets his characters speculate about how that mythology built up around the real creatures, which I liked. I was less impressed with his use of an offensive word for African-Americans. While it lends some authenticity to the novel in its period and setting, and it ultimately serves a good story point, there are some points where the word just feels overused.
One of the things that led me to read the book now was discovering that Daniel Abraham had adapted the novel into a comic book. Abraham is one-half of the writing team who created the Expanse novels under the pen-name James S.A. Corey. Since I recently went through the exercise of adapting an episode from one of my vampire novels into a comic book, I was curious what the comic adaptation of this novel was like. He did a good job of paring the novel down to it’s essence and hitting the key plot points. In a comic book, the art needs to do a lot of the heavy lifting of conveying the story’s emotions. At some level, a comic writer’s job is to give the artist all the tools needed to show the story to the reader. Overall, the art did seem to capture the emotions I felt when reading the novel. I did catch a couple of places where it seemed like important plot points were mentioned in passing and if I hadn’t known they were important from the novel, I might have missed them in the comic. This is a challenge in comic book writing because you have to be so minimalist that you have to make choices about what to emphasize and what not to. I might have made a different choice, but without more experience than I have, I don’t know if it would be a better choice.
For those people looking for an interesting, historical vampire tale, I do recommend either the novel or the comic book adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream. Studying how Daniel Abraham adapted Martin’s novel has given me some ideas about what I would do in further adaptations of my own work.
As a reminder, I will be sharing my comic book, Guinevere and the Stranger with my Patreon subscribers starting on Monday. If you want to be first in line to read the comic, be sure to subscribe at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. What’s more, print comics have arrived and will go on sale at https://www.hadrosaur.com soon after it’s appeared for Patreon subscribers.