Read an eARC from the publisher
Content warning: anti-Japanese racism, anti-Asian racism, slurs, white supremacy, arachnophobia, gore, blood, miscarriage
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Alma Katsu’s historical horror novels. This one takes a little bit of a different approach, delving into a specific historical chapter but using characters largely invented for the story. In one of the very real Japanese internment camps in Idaho, Meiko Briggs notices a mysterious shipment arrive while her daughter, Aiko, sees portentous demons in the corner of her room. In Oregon, preacher Archie Mitchell eagerly awaits the birth of his first child, while those dreams are dashed when a mysterious balloon explodes and kills his wife along with some local children. In Nebraska, a journalist, Fran Gurstwold sees one of these mystery balloons and falls down a rabbit hole of government conspiracy and further abuses.
Unnervingly relevant, The Fervor offers a critique and condemnation of racism and xenophobia while weaving a terrifying story featuring demons from Japanese folklore and a mysterious illness.
There is compassion, there is patience, but there is absolutely no endorsement of any of the attitudes presented within. There is no clear villain in terms of a singular figure to be defeated, which allows room for exploration and historical insight into Japanese internment, both from the perspective of those interned and on the sidelines. There is so much fear woven throughout. There are more visceral fears like the violence from both the mysterious illness and exploding balloons, with the occasional supernatural appearance. There are also the societal, social, and cultural terrors that stem from the violence of white supremacy, who is the real antagonist here.
Each perspective between Meiko, Aiko, Archie, and Fran masterfully balances interpersonal tensions and greater societal stakes. The moments that shock absolutely strike the landing, especially when the reader thinks they have things figured out in terms of the plot. From this perspective, filling in the blanks between Meiko and Archie’s backstories kept me reading and invested in the story’s outcome. Past mistakes do get a reckoning, and there is a distinct sense of consequence. There is so much humanization, it hurts the heart.
Yet, the sense of how culture and society got there is mired in the sentiment, “Disappointed but not surprised.” Cultural nuance weaves its way through each scene and plot beat. The book answers as many questions as it raises, and then presents several more, with further reading into the time period provided by the author’s note at the end. As far as genre horror goes, the demons are very real but aren’t as scary as the book’s true antagonist.
Thought-provoking and harrowing, this is a lot slower in its set-up but takes the reader on a tense and compelling journey across its myriad POV sections.