In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology 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 Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way 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. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.
Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.
Warnings : (detailed here) intergenerational trauma/genocide; immigration – including anti-immigration sentiment, deportation, human rights abuses; physical and gun violence; mention of physical and sexual abuse of a minor, including by a parental figure, family abuse; animal abuse and death; death of parent, death of child, death during an epidemic outbreak, alcoholism and drug abuse; mention of suicide
Firstly, I want to say, OMG I have been missing out! The Fever King was quite an experience to read mainly because of how it is written. Like, I could see the plot twists and the reveals coming much earlier than Noam realizes it, and yet it did not dampen my enjoyment of the book one bit, because Lee unfurls the story so well, the journey towards those reveals is as much impactful as the reveal itself. But I am getting ahead of myself – because I couldn’t stop gushing about the thing that I liked about her writing – so let’s get back to what it’s about.
The plot is from the point of view of Noam, living in 22nd century Carolinia (which is a kingdom-then-country made of some US states together), and who is the son of undocumented immigrants from Atlantia (another such country made from an amalgamation of US states), who had fled to Carolinia decades ago because their native country had an outbreak of a viral magic. Carolinia is the only country that allowed and protected witchings, and was created by Calix Lehrer, who was crowned king, and then abdicated to allow for a democratic state. He’s been kicking around since then (which makes him 123 now) and has retained his youth through use of his own magic, which he is very proficient at. He himself was a survivor of the initial genocide that killed many witchings and their families, and has been the minister of defense since his abdication. Noam, now a witching is under his command, and while he abhors the government for doing nothing to save refugee and immigrant families from the outbreaks, he realizes he can do more good from within the government. When Lehrer offers to teach him his magic and help with undermining the current chancellor, who has implemented draconian immigration laws, Noam accepts and partners with him.
Noam’s characterization as the son of immigrants, an activist, a hacker and technopath, and a carer for his now-dead father all factor in how he approaches his mentorship under Lehrer. Unlike the other students at Level IV, the barracks for the five witching cadets in Durham, he is new and not as academically learned. Additionally, Dara, Lehrer’s ward and a prodigy seems to be initially at odds with him, and Noam isn’t able to figure out if the animosity is because Dara himself hates Lehrer or he doesn’t like Noam being his mentee. Noam’s wary of Lehrer’s motives for mentoring him, but he accepts that having a historical hero and a powerful man as his ally would help in his fight for immigrant rights. Lehrer, for his part, seems shady from the start, because (a) he is charming AF and (b) he has had over a 100 years as a career politician and you can’t trust someone with that capacity of manipulation. And sure, we see him grooming Noam to his ideals, see him subtly inspiring loyalty in him, giving him a fatherly figure to lean on. Additionally, having transcripts and letters and diary entries relating to Calix’s youth gives us a view of him, and tells us a bit about his backstory as well. Meanwhile, Noam is also attracted to Dara, but seeing that Dara doesn’t exactly disapprove of the current chancellor and won’t explain why he hates Lehrer, theirs is a tense relationship with a kinda slow burn romance. Noam takes a while to catch on to some things, and maybe I shook my head at his naivete like Dara, but yeah, when it came to Calix, I see why Noam went along with some things, especially at the end.
The plot tackles issues of immigration laws head on, discusses the privilege of being born in a safer place, and very much mirrors contemporary immigration issues. Additionally, it delves into activism, and how different people have different approaches and ideas about what will institute change. For example, Noam’s one conflict with his uncle-like figure Brennan is how much they push back against authority – Noam is for drastic and maybe even violent means if it gets them results, while Brennan advocates for diplomacy and peaceful protests, which Noam feels inadequate in the face of bigoted sentiments. The other thing that the plot discusses is abuse and trauma and how many forms in can take and how differently it can shape different people, especially the major characters of Noam, Dara and Calix. The ending was heartbreaking, and considering the trap that Noam has walked into, I am quite anxious about what the sequel will bring.
Is it diverse? bisexual biracial (Latinx-white) Jewish main character; gay PoC main character; queer Jewish major character; written by queer author
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Skyscape, via Netgalley.