Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
A fantasy novel published in 1982 simply had to feature vampires, such were the rules and expectations of the market. Martin managed to spin the vampire mythos a bit even if, in my humble opinion, the book reeked strongly of Anne Rice among other things. Still I was impressed – the story fitted one single tome, imagine that!
The blend of fantasy and horror worked very well; if it’s currently become a cliché to combine scary vampires – or any kind of paranormal activity – with the American South (Sookie Stackhouse et al.) , I found that combination very effective in this case. The storyline was decent enough but the characters… in general, I found the characters to be rather thinly drawn. Perhaps not completely hopeless but a tad too flat if you know what I mean. A big, strong, ugly, and not so dumb captain with warts on his face. A relatively young, inexperienced vampire aristo from France who wants to change the habits of his race. An ancient, weary blood master who wants to keep the status quo but is dead tired of his existence. Even keeping in mind the fact that this novel is close to 40 years old, and even with the small differences Martin made to his vampire race from other authors, you find it all rather stereotypical, especially if you’ve read a lot of fantasy novels with bloodsuckers. Like me. ;p
Still I really enjoyed everything about steamboats, steam engines, valves, boilers, parts of boats, how to navigate, how to pilot, day to day operations and maintenance. It was original, informative, and interesting. Good job, Mr. Martin.
If you want to read one of old school vampire stories penned by the author of ASOIAF look no more, this is your book. A bonus: it will be short.