The Mountains of Instead

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

Numquam Periit Amor (Review: Fever by Dee Schulman)

Dee Shulman
Razorbill 2012

London, 2012 – Eva has just been expelled out of the umpteenth school she has attended and is wondering what her future holds.  Literally too clever for her own good, she’s never been a good fit for conventional schooling and finds it hard to identify with kids her own age.  When she finds the elite St. Magdalene’s online, she quickly applies and joins the ranks of the super-smart.  Finally thriving, she throws herself into her work and even manages a to nurture a blossoming social life.  All is going well until she gets sick, really sick, and finds herself remembering people and places that she cannot possibly have knowledge of. Londinium, 152 AD – Seth lives in the spotlight and shadow of the gladiatorial arena.  Far from home he has become one of Londinium’s most celebrated fighters and if he doesn’t exactly enjoy his life, he at least survives it.  Fawned over by Roman WAGS he has little interest in romance until he catches sight of Livia in the arena crowd.  This chance glance leads to love, sickness and worlds that Seth cannot comprehend.  Impossibly, fantastically, Eva and Seth are linked but their story is one of violence, blood and fever.

Eva’s a rather lovely character.  She’s smart on a genius level and has a thirst for knowledge and confidence in her own abilities that, rather than seeming smug or arrogant, is charming and believable. Genuinely misunderstood by her family and erstwhile schoolmates, St. Magdalene’s allows her character to develop in a way that allows readers to get to know Eva at the same time she is getting to know herself – something that works beautifully.  The only aspect of her character that is slightly difficult to swallow is her discomfort with her own appearance and the attention that it garners.  While it is clear that she doesn’t see anything extraordinary when she looks in the mirror (this isn’t a girl who is decrying her beauty while secretly enjoying it, she genuinely just doesn’t get it), her problems with any boy showing an interest in her seem strange.  In fact, they seem like a plot device – because they are.  Later, when she meets someone she is interested in, one suspects that the contrast is meant to be dramatically extreme, rather it feel slightly contrived.

Seth is harder to relate to than Eva.  Many readers, one suspects, won’t be particularly au fait with Londinium and so it takes a while to get to know him out with the arena.  However, as the story develops, so does Seth and his focus and determination are attractive traits.  He seems older than his eighteen years, as is suited to a life of fighting, but lacks the ability to see the bigger picture.  His friendship with Mattias is one of the more interesting aspects of the story, particularly towards the end, being multi-faceted and confusing for both characters.  While Eva is the more accessible character in Fever, Seth is the most intriguing and his is the character that has most potential in any sequel – if only because he remains slightly underdeveloped even in the books conclusion.  Incidentally he also is the kind of gladiator that fights wearing few clothes, using only a net and a trident – like Finnick.  And one can never have too many things that are like Finnick.

The storyline of Fever at first appears complicated but is actually pretty simple and while enjoyable in parts is not without flaws. Told in a duel narrative (first person for Eva’s sections, third person for Seth’s – something that doesn’t help with his characterisation) readers are flung between modern and latter day London and this means that both stories take a while to get going.  In fact Fever, while interesting as a whole, only really becomes compelling in its third and final section, where readers can finally glimpse where Dee Shulman is taking her characters.  Sadly, this third section is also the shortest of the book and one feels that the overarching story could have been introduced by the midway point of what is a fairly long title rather than waiting until nearly the end.  There is, by necessity, a fair amount of both illness and science – yay for mystery diseases!  This is actually a lot of fun and Schulman has pulled off a real Michael Crichton in making the scientific jargon interesting.  However, the section where Eva seems to be bouncing between school and hospital with mind blowing speed did become slightly wearing although the school itself is a lot of fun – yay for boarding schools!  Schulman’s vision of gladiatorial London is also well written and visually affective although it probably helps if readers have seen Spartacus or somesuch.  

As the first part of a trilogy Fever is intriguing enough that readers will be curious as to the fate of Eva and Seth but should book two be both as lengthy and slow-moving as book one, they might find themselves wondering whether this is a story that could have perhaps been told in just the one volume – something that these days would be a novelty all by itself.  Certainly Fever is worth a look and Dee Shulman should be congratulated on her vision but only time will tell whether the series lives up to the potential of her imaginative premise.

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