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Trading Up: George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream

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For those of us already immersed in the worlds of cult fantasy and the fandom that surrounds them, it seems more than a little strange that as established a presence as George R.R. Martin could suddenly be elevated to the status of heretofore undiscovered talent in the general public’s eyes. Such has been the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, though, that Martin’s already considerable profile has been raised to even greater heights, and a whole new audience has been introduced to his work in the last twelve months or so.

For a few years now, Martin’s novels have proved a fertile ground for comics adaptations. In 2010 Avatar Press, who recently teamed with Titan Books to distribute their books in the U.K., published a ten-issue maxiseries bringing Martin’s historical horror series, Fevre Dream, to the graphic novel arena. The book  is set on the Mississippi river in 1857 and follows the burgeoning partnership of steamboat owner Abner Marsh, an ugly bear of a man, and his mysterious benefactor Joshua York.

For reasons of his own, the enigmatic Joshua finances the building of a luxury steamer that Abner christens The Fevre Dream. However, Joshua’s strange entourage of companions and their odd nocturnal habits begin to raise suspicions among the boat’s crew and passengers. When Abner challenges his partner about his concerns he discovers a macabre world of warring vampire factions and a quest to end their curse forever. But what role will his beloved Fevre Dream play in this power struggle between the creatures of the night?

I have to admit that it’s been a number of years since I read Martin’s novel but Daniel Abraham’s adaptation captures what I remember of its atmosphere and mood. Each issue, or chapter, is certainly dramatically paced, and the characterisation of the original remains as well drawn and defined in translation between media. Central to the plot of Fevre Dream is the unlikely alliance between the gruff steamboat captain and his noble but flawed colleague; an often subtle and understated friendship, but one that’s strength is at the very heart of the book.

Also brought to chilling life here is Martin’s own defined take on vampire mythology: more a separate race than a supernatural force, the vampires of Fevre Dream operate within a distinct social order with its own traditions, politics and rituals. Their disdain of mankind, and treatment of it as cattle for their needs, is used effectively as a metaphor for a parallel commentary on the obscenity of the practice of slavery within the human world. Twilight fans beware, there are no sparkly nosferatu here – those who embrace their vampire heritage in Fevre Dream are largely cruel and vicious and even the more sympathetic characters, like Joshua and his circle, have dark and brutal pasts.

                 

Where, perhaps, the adaptation does fail to deliver as well as it might have done, however, is in the visuals. Artist Rafa Lopez seems slightly miscast here. His characters have an air of caricature about them and, in general, the air of brooding realism this story should have – and one that is so perfectly captured in so many of the gloriously gothic painted covers that adorned the series – is, unfortunately, rather lacking on the interiors. There, dare I say it, the art feels far too traditionally comic strip for a story this epic.

Ultimately, however, Fevre Dream remains a cracking tale, both as a historical fantasy and as a parable on the rejection of our baser instincts and our aspirations to be something nobler than fate had intended. A kind of Mark Twain meets Anne Rice affair, this is a grand, sprawling saga. Fevre Dream pulls you into its world of intrigue and deception with a commanding authority and provides a memorable comics costume drama.

George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream is available in the U.K. from Titan Books priced £18.99 and from Avatar Press in the U.S. priced $24.99

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