reviewed by Pam Guynn
Alma Katsu’s novel, The Fervor, is dark, intense, and disturbing, but contains important themes that are just as applicable today as they were in 1944. While this is fiction, internment camps during World War II and many instances of violence against those of Asian (and other) ancestry in America are a harsh reality.
That is one of the reasons this is such a difficult review to write and do justice to the book. The story can be categorized in many ways. It is historical fiction, a medical suspense, and a historical horror with a bit of folklore and supernatural suspense.
The story follows four main characters living in different states and switches points of view between them. Archie Mitchell is a minister in Bly, Oregon, Meiko Briggs and her daughter, Aiko, have been taken to an internment camp, Camp Minidora in Idaho, and Fran Gurstwold is a reporter in Ogallala, Nebraska. Archie wants to do the right thing, but he is somewhat weak and easily led by others. Meiko was born in Japan and brought up traditionally, but fell in love and married an American who is currently a pilot in the war. Aiko is intelligent, sees monsters and spirits, and was born in the United States. Fran is looking for a big story that will get her out of the women’s section of the newspaper. When a mysterious disease spreads among those interned as well those not in camps, the paranoia and the suspense rise. Strange doctors arrive at the camps and there are news blackouts. What unfolds is a mix of investigation, atrocities, folklore, threats, and violence.
This well-written novel is thought-provoking. Katsu does a great job of intertwining history, mythology, and horror into a bleak, shocking, moving, and original story. It isn’t sententious but rather pulls readers in with compelling characters, different points of view, and individual motivations. My biggest quibble is that the story was somewhat slow in the beginning, but as it unfolds, the suspense built as did my frustration and anger that such a thing as internment camps could happen in the United States. Most of those sent to the camps were born in the US and were citizens, but they were considered a potential threat by the government without cause. While I have read about this before, it certainly was not taught in any of my history classes in school. Themes include racism, xenophobia, suppression of the press, medical experiments, honor, violence against those who are different than oneself, and much more.
Overall, this was suspenseful, thought-provoking, and intriguing with fascinating characters and a situation that made me angry at the atrocities that still occur today. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Alma Katsu provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for April 26, 2022.