The Fever King is packed with real-world parallels


Though it occasionally gets so heavy-handed that it gets in its own way, Victoria Lee’s The Fever King still works as a solid dystopian novel.

Make no mistake about the following: The Fever King, Victoria Lee’s first novel, knows that it is socially conscious. It’s all over the marketing materials just as it is over the book itself, from the timing (the events that set the rest of the book into motion happen right around this year) to the idea of refugees and migrants to the use of “Carolinia First.” Any reader who looks at this book and has a passing knowledge of American politics will feel like they’re reading an alternate history of the United States right now, and where it could go, just with magic involved. There are even questions for guided reading already!

All the same, though, the book is meant to be a YA novel, and so it’s no surprise that our hero, Noam Álvaro, is 16, that perfectly expected age for a YA protagonist who wakes up to find that he has new abilities and is immediately thrown into a different version of the world he’s been trying to break down in any way he can. For Noam is an activist for refugees from Atlantia, one of the countries that’s left in the wake of the fall of the U.S., but Carolinia is not kind to them.

After all, the politicians of Carolinia think these refugees are bringing disease in particular with them, the disease that leaves most dead and a few with magic. Much like other recent release Four Dead Queens, there are elements of fantasy here, although Lee opts for sci-fi over fantasy as the dominant genre. Conceptually, it’s all strong, with some mysteries solved before the end of the book and others left for the practically inevitable sequel. Most of those questions surround Calix Lehrer, who is a relic of the past still very much part of the present. However, because so much is packed in, much like dealing with the news lately, there’s a fatigue that can set in. It becomes hard to care because you stop knowing what to care about most.

We can’t recommend this book for readers towards the younger end of the YA target audience. It may seem a bit prudish, but this book drops the F-bomb more than is strictly necessary, moving it from a strength of actually capturing how teenagers might still speak to a weakness, as if Lee could think of no other way to set some of her prose off.

There are also some particularly uncomfortable overtones and explicit text about relationships between older men and teen boys, and in a world that’s in the middle of reckoning with Leaving Neverland, it feels … difficult to read and see where this is a necessary part of the text.

But at the same time, it’s the kind of book you can breeze through in a weekend and feel as though you may have gotten a new perspective on some issues. Its twists may seem predictable; its romance just as thorny and twisty as you’ve expected; but even though Noam is the main character, Calix ends up the most compelling, and that’s not just because we want to know more about him.

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