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. Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks —refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. He 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.
I’ve been drooling over the synopsis for The Fever King, and now it’s been released EARLY on Amazon First Reads! My weekend was sleep deprived and hyper with excitement. By the time my copy arrived, I’d already finished the ebook. And all I can say is, GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!
Please note: this review is not spoiler free, and it discusses some awful stuff.
🐯 Is it legal to marry a book synopsis
The Fever King is an incredible mesh between fantasy, sci-fi, and bitingly on-point political commentary. In the early 2000s, a magical virus sweeps the globe, killing millions and leaving a handful with powers – witchings – in its wake. What follows is genocide, nuclear war, and by 2020, the USA has collapsed. New states rise from the ashes – Carolinia, Atlantia, York. Carolinia is led by Calix Lehrer – a magnetic and magnanimous freedom fighter who led the witchings to bloody victory, before ceding his titles to ensure a peaceful transfer of democratic power. Witchings are both marginalised and admired, co-opted into a government system which seeks to control them even as they struggle to wield magic without tipping over the edge of infection …and going fevermad. Also, everyone is gay.
On a scale of good to fucking awesome, how fab is this concept?? The answer is SERIOUSLY FUCKING AWESOME.
🐯 I Ship This
The best concept in the world could be let down by crap characters. Noam and Dara are awesome. (Lehrer is also a brilliant character, but awesome is the completely wrong word for pond slime like him).
Noam and Dara are both witchings, somewhat traumatised, and cute AF. That’s where the superficial similarities end. Noam is the son of refugees, a budding anarchist who’s sick of social injustice and wants to take down the system from inside. Dara is the privileged ward of Lehrer himself, trained to be a soldier politician from birth and pragmatic about the government’s need for stability. They’re both furiously fighting for a better future, and they have opposing values of how to achieve it.
Sparks fly, and I squee.
🐯 Everyone is gay. No, really. Also, you are gay after reading this.
Dara is gay. Noam is bi. Carter is bi. Lehrer is gay. I’m racking my brains trying to think of a character in this story who wasn’t hella gay, and I’m coming up blank.
Okay, so, there are some supporting characters who might not be gay…. Except that their sexuality is never discussed …and therefore we can presume that they are also supremely gay, because in the post-nuclear apocalypse, everyone is gay. This is the future liberals want!! Or should that be, this is the future anarcho-anti-capitalist-wizard-teens want? Either way, it’s AMAZING AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
*aggressively throws glitter*
🐯 Every time you read this book Richard Spencer gets punched in the face
The prescience of the politics explored in The Fever King makes some other YA fantasies I’ve read recently look laughable. I’ve also never read a fiercely leftist YA fantasy before, and I fucking love it.
When the magic plague first hit the world, the USA government starts to systematically exterminate witchings. When the European Union find out what the USA is doing, they initiate a nuclear war. (Not sure what the strategy there was, but I appreciate the sentiment.) Meanwhile, England and Texas both fall back into ultra-nationalist conservatism, and continue the witching genocide, because hey – there’s nothing we English love better than a good genocide. Right, lads?!
The fascinating political history of Carolinia and Lehrer is revealed slowly, through clues in the narrative, and by brilliant little segments in between chapters such as transcripts of old interviews, snippets of history books, and private letters. At the time the novel is set, Carolinia’s economy is strained by culture war and political violence. Society is at breaking point as millions of refugees fleeing the magical pandemic are crushed into ghettos, where they are brutalised by the state and by entrenched socio-economic inequality. Riots, protests, and police brutality destabilise people’s daily lives and threaten to turn the political system on its head. If this all feels uncomfortably close to home, that’s because it is.
At one point Noam attends an anti-fascist protest where people are holding signs saying ‘Impeach’, and yes, I feel personally attacked by this relatable content. But never…never in all my born days did I think I would have the inponderable joy of reading a major YA release where a character non-ironically says ‘Come on guys, let’s go bash the fash,’ … and then they actually go and bash the fash.
Is this even real life?! We are only two months into 20BiTeen and I am already SHOOK.
I vote Victoria Lee for gay socialist-dictator of the post-fact nuclear wasteland!
🐯 TW: Child Abuse
From the moment Lehrer appears to Noam in the courtyard – the second time we ever see him – I had that man pegged as a child abusing piece of shit. Why?
- My social worker spidey senses were tingling? Hard yes ✔
- I’m a cynical misandrist who suspects all powerful men? Possibly also yes ✔
- Lehrer is a textbook groomer? YES. ✔
Lehrer is actually a fascinating and complex villain, as well as being a child abusing scumbag who needs to be trampled by a herd of wildebeest. He’s the child of Holocaust survivors who wants to enfranchise refugees and liberate the oppressed…. by murdering those who oppose him. He wants to implement socialist democracy…by creating child soldiers and declaring himself benevolent dictator. Hmm.
For realsies though, Lehrer is a walking and talking NSPCC child safety awareness campaign:
- He targets and befriends emotionally and socially vulnerable children (HAHAHA so real in this book it’s not even funny).
- He takes advantage of a socially acceptable relationship style to force proximity (i.e. mentor and student….casually leading to private chats….to long walks in the park…).
- He confides secrets, thereby creating trust and building a false sense of equality which erodes the boundary in the relationship, and also forces the child to feel emotionally beholden to them (i.e. Lehrer telling Noam he’s the only one who understands him, and the only one who can help him, giving him tasks to do to prove his worth).
- He uses physical proximity and his own attractiveness to further erode the boundary (i.e. every time Lehrer put his arm round Noam, leans in close enough that Noam can smell him, touches Noam without permission….which is EVERY TIME THEY ARE TOGETHER HOLY SHIT. This was the instant giveaway guys).
I spent the rest of the book with a tightening knot of dread in my stomach.
I was terrified by the possibility that I was wrong as well as the possibility that I was right. I feel like it’s rare for YA sci-fi and fantasy to confront grooming and name it for what it is. I am so freaking used to novels which portray darkly sexy older males as somehow acceptable in their advances towards young people because it’s like, forbidden love or some shit. So the more grooming behaviours Lehrer displayed, the more I was terrified that at the end of the book it would all be somehow hand waved away. I was equally terrified that it was true, because that would break my heart for Dara and what he had certainly been through.
ANYway, what I’m trying to say is I hope that son of a bitch Lehrer meets a slimy and painful end, preferably involving every cell in his body getting electrocuted to high bloody heaven.
Or I guess he could be brought to justice, but this is fantasy so where’s the fun in that? *cracks knuckles*
🐯 Leather Pants Draco…I mean Dara
My only issue with this book was that the nonstop angst and melodrama between Noam, Dara and Ames felt a little fanfic-y at times.
- There’s a lot of namedropping of philosophy and literature. Do sixteen year olds read? Duh. Can they be smart and deep? Of course, but you only need to say so once – we get it.
- The teens only drink expensive bourbon and vintage whiskey. Do sixteen year olds get drunk? Yes, on cheap spirits and cider. I understand that Lee was making a point about their privilege, but the non-stop drinking of such expensive liquor gets a little grating.
- Dara is a OTT super sexy bad boy who is just SO SEXY and SO DAMAGED and SO TORTURED. He wears a lot of clinging black trousers, he’s constantly drunk, seducing someone, or both, and I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d just started wearing a Victorian collar, cried a single romantic tear and called himself Lord Byron.
These are all the tiniest of weeniest complaints. Please ignore them if you disagree.
BUT I do have something else I’d like to add that’s more discourse-y. I felt that the way Dara is sexualised by the narrative (by Noam’s POV, that is) seemed a little too bound up in him being an abuse victim. It’s moments that involve abusive relationships where we first get to see Dara’s seductiveness in action. i.e. when he sweet talks General Carter to get Noam out of trouble, and when they’re at the Carter’s house party. Other than this, I didn’t feel like we got to see Dara as being sexy without that somehow being tied to his darkness and angst, such as when he’s getting drunk or coming home from one night stands that don’t seem to be making him happy. To me it felt almost like a sexualisation or romanticisation of trauma… which is fucked up.
BUT. I am not a survivor, and Lee is. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Some abuse survivors can take on very sexualised personas to protect themselves, and maybe that’s what Lee was portraying. Maybe something else was going on that I’ve missed.
I’m dying to hear you guys’ thoughts on this!!
The slow romance between Noam and Dara had me on tenterhooks. The creeping build of horror around Lehrer had me feeling sick. The world and plot was fresh, alarmingly relatable, and so damn exciting. The book makes the science blend seamlessly with the fantasy. I spend so much time on this blog complaining that YA isn’t dark enough, and then THIS FUCKER HAPPENS. Holy hell. Go buy it.
4.5 paper tigers!
Chat with me!
Who else is totally onboard the Fever King hype train? Has my 2019 reading peaked too early? And should we all just give up now and bow down to the inevitable dictatorship of the gay-letariat? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!