The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Everybody's Got The Fever (Review: Fever by L. DeStefano)

Lauren DeStefano
Harper Collins 2012

Rhine is free.  Having escaped the candy-cane prison of her husband and sister wives she is back in the world with the oh-so-trusting Gabriel right by her side.  Yet Rhine had become used to her prison of softness and holograms and Gabriel cannot remember anything else.  As they attempt to make their way to Manhattan and Rhine’s lost twin, they stumble from harsh reality to harsh reality often barely aware of themselves or their goal.  As they move through the country, Rhine’s captor Vaughn pursues them, slithering in the shadows and never more present than when Rhine becomes desperately ill.

Never the most accessible character, Rhine emerges in Fever as stubborn yet unfocussed, strong yet weak, caring yet selfish.  In truth, her character is hugely paradoxical and therefore sometimes hard to like – for no other reason than it is hard to grasp what truly motivates her.  On one hand, her determination to reach her brother is tangible throughout the book but on the other, her complete inability to plan anything is hugely frustrating.  She often refers to her guilt at dragging Gabriel into a situation that he was in no way prepared for but at the same time also seems irritated at him.  Her refusal to remove the wedding ring that signifies her recent imprisonment seems downright strange and her frequent longing for the nicer things in life makes her seem shallow and prissy.  Honestly, her ongoing obsession with a jumper that sounds downright ghastly gets old pretty quickly. 

Fever is crying out for a duel narrative structure which would aid the title by not only allowing readers a break from Rhine but also allowing them to get to know Gabriel, a character who has the potential to be far more compelling.  Gabriel wants to plan, to move forward, to find the wonderful world that Rhine told him about and his realisation that it doesn’t exist is extremely sad.  It would be more effective, though, were his character to have been developed more.  In Wither he was a rather mysterious love interest, one that seemed sure to come into focus in any sequel but he remains lightly sketched which is sad as in the brief moments when he does come into focus he is one of the more multi-faceted characters. 

Other characters fare better but are often introduced only to disappear as our protagonist moves on.  From the megalomaniacal rule of Madame and her scarlet girls to the quiet tragedy of a couple still mourning the loss of a long dead son they are all extremely readable.  Latterly, the character of Silas becomes interesting (oddly, for a bit player, he comes into sharper focus than Gabriel) and tiny Maddie engenders real sympathy.  Fascinatingly, though, it is Linden who is once more the most compelling feature of the story.  It’s not that he’s particularly likable but more that DeStefano spent so much time on him in Wither that readers will find themselves fascinated to find out what has happened to him. Interest in his character is also aided in the fact that there is absolutely no chemistry between Rhine and Gabriel.  At no point do they seem to be genuinely in love and often it is easier to believe that they actively dislike each other.  At the very least, Gabriel seems exploited by Rhine and at the worst almost completely dismissed.

The plot of Fever is relatively straight-forward, following Rhine and Gabriel as they move towards Manhattan, pursued by a variety of horrors along the way.  The writing, as in Wither, is stunning in places with the first third of the book particularly evocative.  DeStefano has a real gift in painting incredibly visual scenes and Rhine and Gabriel’s passage through a drugged hinterland of carnival horses, feathers and emaciated girls is so real that it’s often hard to read.  Yet it is in the author’s pretty words that the problem with Fever becomes apparent – one of style over content.  Yes, the writing is beautiful and often transportative but this is all at the detriment of real, relatable characters and progressive plot.  At the end of the day, Rhine is still conflicted, Gabriel still vague and Vaughn still being evil in his basement.  Only the last few pages offer hope, leaving Rhine in a precarious position due to a  development that could lead to a fascinating and compelling finale to DeStefano’s trilogy.  Perhaps Fever falls into that “difficult second album” territory and the final chapter of Rhine’s story will live up to the promise that the writing holds – time will tell.

Fever is available now.  Thank you to the publisher for sending me this title to review.


District YA said…
I adored Wither, and was expecting to much from Fever I feel as I just didn't love it as much as I wanted to. I'm praying that the end will live more to my expectations!!
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