The Fever King
By Victoria Lee
Skyscape; hardcover, 384 pages; $16.99; available Friday, March 1
Victoria Lee, a moral psychologist, is fascinated by how out emotions affect and influence the ethical decisions we make. With inspiration from her extensive research and study of the grey area between heroic and villainous acts and how both can be justified by the individual's own subjective point of view, she has written her debut novel, The Fever King.
This deeply personal story blends science, technology, and magic in a post-apocalyptic setting. In this story, magic is a virus that kills almost everyone it infects in the former United States. There are rare survivors who have antibodies in their blood that allow them to use magic, rather than being consumed by it.
Sixteen-year-old Noam Alvaro wakes up in a hospital bed to find his family killed by the viral magic and himself imbued with technopathy, which is the ability to control technology with his mind. His new power attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks, refugees that Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. With an opportunity to make change, Noam accepts the minister's offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. When he then meets the minister's son, who is cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful, the way forward becomes less clear for him.
Caught between his mission and his hear, Noam must decide who can be trusted and how far he is willing to go in his pursuit of the greater good.
The Fever King is a science fiction/fantasy novel for our times, featuring a remarkable and flawed main character who happens to be bi-racial (Latino and Jewish) and bi-sexual. The action takes place in a very complex world, where magic is a virus, where queer enemies become lovers, and where villains ooze charisma. This story is full of political intrigue, psychological manipulation, and unconventional romance.
AUTHOR APPEARANCE:The Launch Event for The Fever King will be held on Monday, March 4 at 6:00 p.m. at The Corner Bookstore - 1313 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10128; cornerbookstorenyc.com; (212)831-3554
Why I Wrote The Fever King, By Victoria Lee:
Two weeks after I moved to Sweden, I walked out of my socialist reading group and into a neo-Nazi rally. There were three hundred of them crowding the streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old Town. They kept shouting about Trump, and Swedish nationalism, and - ouf course - how Jews were the root of all evil. Even in Europe, in a relatively left-wing city, I couldn't escape it: the knowledge that there were a lot of people out there who wanted me dead.
Two weeks before I left Sweden, at a music festival in a public park, I tried to explain to a Swedish girl why it was difficult being a Jew, and especially a Jew in Europe. I told her that when I went to Berlin, I encountered a dissonance between feeling like Berlin should be my heritage - I'm German Jewish, specifically - and knowing that Berlin had massacred their Jews. She said, "but no one wants to kill the Jews anymore." To her, Nazis existed only in history. Putting a pin in that, I told her that people were still anti-Semitic, that lots of people still believed in things like a secret Jewish cabal was ruling the world. She looked at me like I was maybe a little bit stupid and said: "But Jews do run the world."
At that point, I was pretty sure there was nothing I could tell her that would make her understand the terror of being Jewish and caught up in a Nazi rally. Of posting videos of the rally online and having dozens of those same Nazis swarm your inbox explaining, in lurid detail and with self-righteous pedantry, that a smart Aryan girl like you could surely realize all her liberal beliefs were really just Jewish propaganda.
The Fever King is a very personal book for me in so many ways. It deals with trauma and trauma recovery - both personal trauma and intergenerational. Much of the main character's experiences as a refugee in Carolinia was broadly drawn from the Jewish experience. Noam is the child of refugees and has spent his whole life fighting for refugee rights - but when he gains magical powers, he's elevated to a position of privilege in his society and has to reconcile the intersection of that new identity with his other lived experiences. I think all of the Jewish diaspora is familiar with the sense of being an outsider in one's own country of birth, and Jewish people still struggle to reconcile the impact of pogroms and the Holocaust as they reverberate down through the generations. And when this intergenerational trauma intersects with personal trauma, everyone reacts differently. In The Fever King, each of the three main characters has experienced trauma. One reacts by externalizing it into revolutionary activism. One internalizes it and becomes self-destructive. A third perpetuates trauma by becoming an abuser themselves.
Like one of the characters in the book, I was abused as a child. It took a long time before I could say it like that, as if it were an easy thing to say. For years I was embarrassed, as if I were the one who had something wrong - by existing in his sphere, by being too pretty, being too naive. There are so many stories tackling the process of recovering from abuse. I wanted to write a book that might speak to those who are still surviving, for whom the abuse is ongoing. Whose abusers are respectable people, the kinds of people who would be believed - unlike yourself: a troublemaker, promiscuous, an addict, mentally ill. I hope that this book will reach readers who will feel seen and understood by it.