Benjamin January is working at a hospital during a yellow fever epidemic. (Yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitos, and due to being endemic in Africa, many people from Africa have some level of immunity. The characters in the book are aware of the latter fact but not the former, and have no useful treatment even if they did know the cause.) Meanwhile, both free people of color and slaves are mysteriously vanishing. In more cheerful news— well, cheerful for a while— Ben meets Rose, a free woman of color running a school for girls. Rose is a great character, and their slow burn romance is lovely.

That being said, the book as a whole was awesomely depressing. Not only was it set in a yellow fever epidemic, not only did it contain a brief but absolutely horrifying torture sequence, but both the epidemic and the horrifying torture were actual historic events, ie, they really happened to real people. Also, dead children. Truly grimdark, though not gratuitously given that it’s real history. Not even Ben and Rose’s charming courtship and politicly crude policeman Abishag Shaw’s delightful way with words ("But I do think I should point out to you that even if Miss Chouteau gets cleared of Borgialatin the soup herself, it ain't gonna win her freedom,") can lift the general gloom.

I have been told that this and Sold Down the River are the darkest books in the whole series. However, I already started Graveyard Dust, and it looks like Hambly is careful to get new readers up to speed on events, so Fever Season is probably skippable if you like the characters but want to miss the awesome depressingness.

Fever Season

Spoilers: I happened to know who Delphine Lalaurie was (from some ill-advised follow-the-links some time back) and so spent the entire book waiting for someone to go in the attic. The scold's bridle, Jesus Christ. Do we ever see Cora again?
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

From: [personal profile] recessional

I happened to know who Delphine Lalaurie was

recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

From: [personal profile] recessional

There are kinds of books/stories that I'll read that kind if stuff in (with planned self-treatment, effectively) but that's not....what I'm lookimg for when I'm reading a mystery ostensibly for enjoyment, y'know? And I don't need further educating in the era's horrors. (I can already give a litany.)

Sooo yeah, most likely give that one a miss.
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

From: [personal profile] recessional

*thumbs up*

B/c yeah it's like stories that use genocides as settings? I may read and even love them as art, but a) I promise a deep sense of the horror is already scored on my psyche, and b) not in my casual entertainment, by preference.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

The tortured slaves were taken to a local jail, where they were available for public viewing. The New Orleans Bee reported that by April 12 up to 4,000 people had attended to view the tortured slaves "to convince themselves of their sufferings."

//quits humanity
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

Yeah, I consider Fever Season the absolute bottom of the series as far as darkness/depressingness is concerned. I actually didn't find Sold Down the River on a par with it for the sheer bleakness/visceral-horror factor, though it's definitely a dark book. The attic scene is pure nightmare fuel.
metaphortunate: (Default)

From: [personal profile] metaphortunate

I thought SDtR was worse, myself. I mean...plantation life, holy fuck.

sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

Yeah, I definitely don't want to downplay the horror of that book, or what it dealt with. I was thinking about this after I left the above comment, actually, and I think the reason why SDtR doesn't stick in my head in quite the same way as Fever Season is because it's a somewhat more hopeful book overall. Ben has more of a support system by that point, and there's more of a sense of ... things-will-get-better, I guess, for the characters in the book, even if not the society overall. Whereas Fever Season ... it feels like there's no bottom to it, things just keep getting worse.
musesfool: text icon: Shakespeare hates your emo poems (Default)

From: [personal profile] musesfool

Yeah, I took a break after Fever Season and...kind of forgot to go back? I have the next couple on my iPad, though.
badgerbag: (Default)

From: [personal profile] badgerbag

OMG. This sounds strangely up my alley.
Have you read Kingdom of Little Wounds? If you did I want to read your review some time :)
oracne: turtle (Default)

From: [personal profile] oracne

Sold Down the River is dark, but I also found it really gripping, like the best sort of suspense novel. I figured she wouldn't do anything permanent to her main character, so I went with it. And I was right.
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))

From: [personal profile] yhlee

I didn't know about Lalaurie coming into this one but I pretty much spotted her as the villain (as it were) straight off, which paradoxically annoyed me. (I almost feel that Hambly has a "tell" when she writes certain kinds of villains, although I'd have to reread her oeuvre to back that up.) But yeah, agreed on the grimness of the book.

From: [identity profile]

This is one of the weaker efforts in the series, I think, even aside from the general depressingness--there isn't much of a mystery, even if you don't know the historical facts about the obvious villain. I think tying the actual mystery plot to a historical atrocity (a specific instance of torture, rather than a larger atrocity like transatlantic slavery) really doesn't work, though Hambly does do well when we weaves her plot in and out of events like epidemics and hurricanes.

But I've always seen this book as a reaction to the first, which is a great read but has a few too many kindly white people in it. I know, in part she's demonstrating over the course of the series how the status of free people of color got worse as New Orleans slipped from being dominated by the influence of the French, who had a place for such people in their system of racism, to that of the US, where all black people were regarded as slaves, or people who should be slaves. But I do think that A Free Man of Color is a little too sympathetic to some of its white side characters, and I think she chose to based this book on certain events as atonement.

(Similarly, the over-complicated plot of Graveyard Dust might be a reaction to the weakness of plotting in this book. At least that's my theory.)

I still adore this series and can almost forgive this book all its flaws for the simple fact that it introduces us to Rose. I love her so much, and she's a wonderful example of middle-class black representation.

From: [identity profile]

This book really does make me appreciate modern medicine. The bloodletting! Minou's terrible 'milk fever'! The onion under the bed! (Though I do love Ben shrugging at one point and going, "well, who knows, maybe onions can cure yellow fever".) I feel like I should send a copy of this book to everyone who's getting into the new cupping fad.

Cora is never again a main character, but she shows up in the background of scenes now and then, enough to get a sense that she seems to be having a nice life. She and Gervase open a restaurant!

Kathy Bates won an Emmy last night for her version of Delphine Lalaurie, but I was pretty spoiled by Fever Season, whose take on her is much more nuanced and scary.

From: [identity profile]

Oh god, this one was depressing, yes. It didn't help that I was reading it (quite literally) at the bedside of my dying grandmother-- I would look up from descriptions of people dying horribly to see her, well, dying horribly. FUN TIMES.

It's skippable to a certain extent, but I'd suggest at least reading the parts with Rose.

Cora gets mentioned every once in a while but doesn't show up in any major parts (at least as of book seven).

From: [identity profile]

I read the first two of these and decided that despite the interesting characters, I found the whole thing entirely too depressing, and didn't go on. I feel mildly guilty about that, which is probably dumb.

From: [identity profile]

I keep bouncing off Sold Down The River halfway through because it's so godawful depressing, in that historical realism people were this awful kind of way. Maybe I should skip ahead to the next one; I was starting to worry the whole series would just get bleaker and bleaker.

From: [identity profile]

Maybe there's a list of warnings for Hambly novels somewhere, or a point in her career when her books became awfully grim.

She's got a series (all the books have Dragon in the title) about an invasion of addictive demons that's about three and a half books of character torture.

From: [identity profile]

Mmmm, I was more viscerally upset by Free Man of Color than by Fever Season, probably because I have some immunity - heh - towards disease descriptions. But then I got to the notes at the end of the book, realised that Lalaurie was a real person, and got intensely retroactively freaked out. I mean, she was still a brilliantly drawn villain - I loved that she had the kind of social image that both Ben and Rose admired - but ahuasuas so horrifying.

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