‘The Fever King’ is an ambitious YA dystopia, a tonal response to the YA dystopian boom in the early 2010s (think The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner), but with greater diversity and scope. It’s a bit rough around the edges, with mild issues around pacing and engagement, but overall it’s a solid and worthwhile read.
Sixteen-year-old Noam Alvaro is the son of undocumented immigrants in Carolinia, part of the former United States. He’s spent his life fighting for the rights of immigrant families and refugees fleeing outbreaks of a dangerous magical disease – one that grants 1% magical powers and kills the remaining 99%. However, his entire life is upended when he wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of a magical outbreak, and newly blessed with the rare power of technopathy. His ability draws the attention of the magical elite and he finds himself drawn into the very world he’s always hated. Stuck between two worlds, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go for the greater good.
Noam makes an excellent protagonist. Intelligent but emotional and often lead by his heart, he cares deeply and always wants to do the right thing, but struggles with what the right thing is. Rationalising his new identity as one of those he’s always despised is challenge, as is seeing the others around him as people rather than merely monsters. Noam tries to straddle two worlds, never feeling at home in either, and clings to things that remind him of the life he once had. At times, Noam is frustrating in those he trusts or the decisions he makes, but its always clear and believable why he’s done what he’s done, and his growth throughout the book is excellent. Books narrated by a single protagonist hinge on whether that protagonist convinces the reader, and Noam does.
As only Noam gets a POV, the secondary characters are more mysterious, but Dara and Calix Lehrer especially are intriguing and well fleshed-out. There’s strong potential for both to be developed in the sequel.
The setting is standard dystopia fare, a city in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event – in this case a virus that decimates most of the population. Where this goes further than most dystopias is exploring the issue of refugees from the virus and the dynamics of immigration. The parallels to contemporary refugee politics are clear, and this poses plenty to think on about current refugee policy. Lee does well at raising questions without pretending to have all the answers, and at pitching complex political debates at a level accessible to a YA audience.
The romance is unfortunately one of the weakest parts of the book. There’s very little initial chemistry, and the relationship is beset by communication issues – some believable in the context of immature teenage characters, but largely frustrating. Its great reading a YA dystopia with a male-male relationship, but it doesn’t come across as a healthy one.
Overall, ‘The Fever King’ is a late entry into a crowded genre, but a worthwhile addition with plenty of new material to explore. Recommended for all dystopia fans.
Published by Skyscape (Amazon Children’s)
Paperback: 1st March 2019