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Fever by Deon Meyer

BOTTOM LINE: SO good

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 5 September 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Nico Storm and his father, Willem, drive a truck filled with essential supplies through a desolate land. They are among the few in the world, as far as they know, to have survived a devastating virus that has swept over the planet. Their lives turned upside down, Nico realizes that his superb marksmanship and cool head mean he is destined to be his father’s protector, even though he is still only a boy.

Willem Storm, though not a fighter, is both a thinker and a leader, a wise and compassionate man with a vision for a new community that survivors will rebuild from the ruins. And so Amanzi is founded, drawing Storm’s ‘homeless and tempest-tost’—starting with Melinda Swanevelder, whom they rescue from brutal thugs; Hennie Fly, with his vital Cessna plane; Beryl Fortuin and her ragtag group of orphans; and Domingo, the man with the tattooed hand, whom Nico immediately recognizes as someone you want on your side. And then Sofia Bergman arrives, the most beautiful girl Nico has ever seen, who changes everything.

So the community grows, and with each step forward, as resources increase, so do the challenges they must face—not just from the attacks of biker brigands, but also from within. Nico undergoes an extraordinary rite of passage in this brand new world, testing his loyalty to the limits. Looking back later in life, he recounts the traumatic events that led to the greatest rupture of all—the murder of the person he loves most.

Propulsively readable, Fever is a gripping epic of humanity striving for a noble vision against its basest impulses.”

My Thoughts: There have been plenty of end-of-world novels in recent years. Most of them are dark and depressing, showing humanity at its worst as the few survivors struggle to live and fight over the remaining limited resources. While they provide a warning as to how quickly society will turn on itself, they tend to rely on scare tactics and a pessimistic outlook to make their points. In his latest novel, Deon Meyer opts to stay away from similar patterns and forges his own story about a post-apocalyptic world. That novel, Fever, is not just exciting and suspenseful, as such novels tend to be, it is also hopeful, making it one of the better novels I have read all year.

While the novel appears to be about Nico and his coming-of-age in the new settlement established by his father for survivors, we learn from the first sentence of the novel that it really is about his father’s murder. Before we get to that point though, Mr. Meyer, through Nico, establishes the complete backstory so that when the event occurs, we understand the context and implications. It is a huge event in the settlement’s history and in Nico’s life, and Mr. Meyer gives it the careful attention it deserves. Without the established history, the murder would mean so much less to the reader. Plus, there is a whodunit factor that makes it fun to play along and test your theories.

The publisher calls Fever an epic, and it is a fitting description. The story is sweeping in its scope. Mr. Meyer takes his time establishing his characters and building the setting in which a majority of the novel occurs. Occurring over four years, we become part of Amanzi first as Willem encourages survivors to come together to build a new, better society and later as they struggle to overcome certain obstacles to the settlement’s survival. These obstacles cross the spectrum from environmental to political to human, and as they battle and survive each one, we become just a little more vested in their society. The characters take on a life of their own as well, as Willem’s rag-tag bunch of followers coalesces into a cohesive community. When this happens, their successes become our successes, their tragedies our own. The scope of the novel is ambitious. Under the wrong pen, the novel could easily fall apart, turning into a mess of characters and events with nothing to tie them together. Instead, Mr. Meyer deftly weaves the novel together, taking his time to develop and flesh out the details which in turn makes the story come alive.

Given everything Nico witnesses and experiences, it would be easy to say that the story is about bad people and good people fighting against each other to stay alive. The funny thing is though that as Amanzi begins to thrive, through hard work, dedication, and the talent of its citizens, that clear line between good and bad begins to fade. It is easy to vilify a group of individuals who does nothing more than scavenge, especially when their scavenging comes with violence against those who have the items they want/need. What Nico comes to learn, and later shows, is that there is a fine line between good and bad and that sometimes it all comes down to perspective. It is an interesting lesson to learn, especially as the entire globe struggles with growing ideological divides and a growing trend of dividing the world into us versus them.

Excellent novels have a way of drawing you into the story and making you forget they are fictional. Through well-developed characters and an attention to detail that is exacting and yet interesting, you become part of the novel. Fever does just that. You are standing vigil with Nico as he shares his past adventures, thoughts, and feelings during the four year period between first settling down and his father’s murder. You are with him as he makes his first shot. You are beside him as he acknowledges his unreasonable teenage behavior even while it is happening. You are next to him as he learns about his father’s death. His grief becomes your grief. His anger yours. To the point where you forget what is real and what is not. It takes several minutes upon halting a reading session to remember who you are as well as where you are. It takes a special novel for this to occur every time you take a break in reading, but Fever is one of the rare few that has that ability to capture and hold a reader’s total attention and imagination and completely block out the rest of the world.

Suffice it to say, Fever is an excellent novel. It is fresh and exciting; the focus on strangers coming together to build something good and lasting is not just refreshing but needed. In today’s political environment, we need stories that remind us that humans are good, that we can work together, that we can compromise and find common ground. Fever fills that void. An added bonus is the careful way in which Mr. Meyer builds the mystery of Willem’s murder, allowing this key event to occur in chronological order rather than upfront. The lack of flashback, if you will, means that you never forget what will happen, and you begin to look at each character and every event with the air of a detective trying to solve a crime before it happens. This only enhances a reader’s interest in the story at large, making it exciting and suspenseful as well as hopeful.

Fever has a little bit of everything to please a wide range of readers. It does not cross genres so much as it incorporates different elements. There is the dystopian feel from the life-ending virus that wipes out almost everyone plus the lonely landscape with few survivors. There is the sociological and political elements of establishing and maintaining a new community. There is the action and suspense that comes with defending that community. Plus you have Nico’s emotional turmoil, as he tells the story from his teenage perspective. It may be hefty in length, but the story is so engrossing that the length becomes a non-issue. Fever is a genuinely good story backed up by fantastic characters and some of the best world-building one will get, making this a must-read for any who enjoy this type of story.

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