The Fervor by Alma Katsu
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (April 2022)
319 pages; $27.00 hardcover
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Sometimes a book comes along that is so special, it moves rather than frightens the reader, and gives a history lesson that likely won’t be found in anything we experienced in school.
When that same book also is relevant to society today, especially in the past few years within this country, it makes for an event that transcends genre.
The Fervor is that book.
Alma Katsu has taken the horror world by storm in recent years with The Hunger and The Deep while hitting the thriller world with Red Widow (soon to be a television series), not to mention the stellar The Taking trilogy.
The Hunger, detailing the infamous Donner Party, invigorated the historical horror subgenre while The Deep took on the story of the Titanic and its sister ship in a novel that topped its predecessor in depth and character, which was tough to accomplish.
Now, Katsu has taken a very personal turn here with The Fervor, a novel that delves into the horrors of the Japanese internment camps set up by Americans during World War II. It’s hard enough to find good source material for this hideous blight on our history, but the author handles it in a manner that melds the truth with a supernatural story that entertains without preaching.
Meiko was supposed to marry a Japanese man; instead, she chose an America pilot who may now be missing in 1944 while fighting overseas. Aiko, their child, was supposed to have a happy home in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, they were rounded up and imprisoned in the heinous internment camps. Something else is in there with them: a strange affliction that seemingly infects only the Japanese Americans, but spreads to those who oppress them. Dubbed “the fervor,” it causes rages, personality changes, delusions, and experiences with translucent spiders that bite and infest both the camps and neighboring towns.
An intrepid reporter, Fran, begins to investigate strange landings of objects that might be causing the affliction. The explosions of these objects only stoke the anti-Asian racism, and worse: a fervor of a different kind. The two main characters dig deep into the mystery that the government is desperately attempting to solve and cover up more than just what they deem a terrorist plan by the Japanese forces.
Katsu is a master at creating characters who tug at the hearts of readers through dense interactions and conflicts that many other authors fall short of building. The plot weaves several threads that are sewn up in intricate fashion as the supernatural and thriller elements are woven together in a story that never hits a dull note. The writing is exquisite yet accessible, drawing the reader deep into The Fervor‘s web without an overdose of atmosphere and setting. The brutality of the tale hits hard – straight into the heart.
This is Katsu’s crowning achievement (so far) and one that needs to be read. Beyond recommended reading for any fans of horror, thrillers, or simply strong fiction. This should be at the top of the Stoker and Shirley Jackson Awards list if there’s any justice.