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.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam 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.
Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.
I relish the risk incurred by picking up a book that might inspire love or hate because both ends are passionate. As a reader, what I dread the most is the middle ground, the lukewarm, the books that lack whatever alchemy is needed to ensure they land on my heart with a sound of impact. Unfortunately, my images of The Fever King are already starting to fray around the edges. The story is a thing I already faintly remember, and soon it would wither, and I’d watch my memories of it yellow and fade as everything fades in the endless wash of days.
So, what’s this book about?
In Carolinia, those with more power than sense and more money than mercy live in regal, decadent splendor behind high walls, while refugees scavenge the smoldering waste where the plague is waiting to snatch them by the throat.
Noam, the bisexual Jewish Latinx son of undocumented immigrants from Atlantia, loses his father in a virus outbreak that spares his life and gives him nothing but swirling, shapeless memories when his parents’ arms were a fortress and a haven…plus an uncanny ability to control technology. A hint of fear mingles with wonder behind Noam’s eyes when he’s brought to the witching training center and told that he would be receiving personal tutoring from Calix Lehrer, the legendary minister of defense and previously America’s briefly crowned king.
This is Noam’s chance and he seizes it in a desperate hold. However much he had failed his parents, he could still fight for the rights of immigrants like him—those who were told their dreams didn’t match where they’d come from and would therefore never come to pass. But Noam is a witching now, working for the government, and that garners him the mistrust of his people. Determined to show his fellow refugees that he hasn’t deserted their side, Noam works on gathering information that could definitively condemn the government’s treatment of immigrants. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop Noam from admiring his tutor Calix with all the greedy, worshipful need in his boyish heart. His delusions are, however, soon dashed and broken when Noam meets Dara, Lehrer’s adoptive son, and the fraught relationship between father and son yields the truth about Lehrer’s true intentions.
As great as the concept of The Fever King is, it is knuckled under by the disappointingly unsatisfying execution.
I plowed through this book, moved only by the cold embers of will. My interest only sputtered throughout my reading like tinder that refused to catch completely. I couldn’t twist myself out of boredom’s holds, and, after a while, my mind stepped around many events without noticing. I just did not care, and the feeling welled up in me so swiftly that I almost did not finish this book.
For a fantasy that weaves political intrigue and elements of sci-fi, The Fever King makes for a sluggish read. It’s not a novel where the reader can seize the arc in a palpable grasp and can feel the intensity mounting towards a rapturous climax. The pace is slow. The tension is slack. The few plot twists meant to induce chills yield only a shadow of the impact I wanted them to contain. The world-building is not intended to do more than sound convincing and leaves far too many unknowns. I was keenly aware, throughout, that the less I questioned the workings of the virus and the “antibodies”, the more I would enjoy this book.
Noam’s character is, unfortunately, not compelling enough to carry the narrative, and, after lengthy, lonely stretches of seemingly thin motivations, repetitive dialogue, the shallowly executed mash-up of secondary characters that are nebulously realized, I found the limits of my patience and gone past them, into the blasted hinterlands of irritation. The story’s resolution was also unsatisfyingly easy. Plot turnings and character developments sheer towards the path of least resistance rather than diving deeper into something more complex and more nuanced. The entire plot hinges on a series of coincidences and bouts of luck that don’t stand up to scrutiny. They are too neat, too complete and too many to be entirely plausible. And I was not impressed.
At least for a while the mystery of who or what Calix Lehrer truly is—friend, foe, monster, hero, or something more abstractly symbolic—and the raised stakes of intrigues around him stirred a flutter of interest in me. There’s an indefinable edge to his character that I found fairly arresting. The developing facets of his real motivation are complex and brutal when unveiled for what they truly are. I liked how the threads that separate monster from hero are tangled enough that you can’t trace you steps back to either one of them.
I also cheer the author’s timely criticism of anti-migrant violence, but I thought the strokes were so broad that the attack was more ticklish than searing. The book introduces many important themes—immigration, racism, young people actively pushing back against what the world has decided for them—but doesn’t explore them in a thorough way. Instead, it seems content to simply bring them up.
Also central to the plot is a brewing romance between Dara and Noam. It’s formidably refreshing to see a queer romance taking center stage in a YA fantasy novel, but to be honest, the pallid dynamics between Noam and Dara hardened my heart to actually shipping them. My least favorite thing in romance is unnecessary conflict that could easily be solved if the characters…just…COMMUNICATED. Most of their exchanges involve drinking unhealthily amount of alcohol (I get that teenagers drink, but in this novel, it’s honestly skirting the edge of teenage rite passage into really dangerous territory), accusing each other of not understanding each other (again, communication, kids), and getting each other off. Again, I just couldn’t bring myself to care.
Overall, I think there was so much promise to the idea of this novel that the sketchy execution was immensely disappointing. This seems to be an unpopular opinion, because many readers seemed to have enjoyed this book. So, I’d say give it a try if it sounds up your alley!