Kate’s Review: “The Fervor”

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Book: “The Fervor” by Alma Katsu

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, April 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: From the acclaimed and award-winning author of The Hunger and The Deep comes a new psychological and supernatural twist on the horrors of the Japanese American internment camps in World War II.

1944: As World War II rages on, the threat has come to the home front. In a remote corner of Idaho, Meiko Briggs and her daughter, Aiko, are desperate to return home. Following Meiko’s husband’s enlistment as an air force pilot in the Pacific months prior, Meiko and Aiko were taken from their home in Seattle and sent to one of the internment camps in the Midwest. It didn’t matter that Aiko was American-born: They were Japanese, and therefore considered a threat by the American government.

Mother and daughter attempt to hold on to elements of their old life in the camp when a mysterious disease begins to spread among those interned. What starts as a minor cold quickly becomes spontaneous fits of violence and aggression, even death. And when a disconcerting team of doctors arrive, nearly more threatening than the illness itself, Meiko and her daughter team up with a newspaper reporter and widowed missionary to investigate, and it becomes clear to them that something more sinister is afoot, a demon from the stories of Meiko’s childhood, hell-bent on infiltrating their already strange world.

Inspired by the Japanese yokai and the jorogumo spider demon, The Fervor explores a supernatural threat beyond what anyone saw coming; the danger of demonization, a mysterious contagion, and the search to stop its spread before it’s too late.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I say this a lot on here, but I have a few must read authors and this post is about another one. I have been living for Alma Katsu’s historical horror stories since I picked up “The Hunger” a few years ago, the promise of a horror retelling of the Donner Party too amazing to pass up. We went on to “The Deep” which brought us ghosts and the Titanic. And when I heard about “The Fervor”, and how it was going to be a historical horror story set during Japanese American Internment during World War II, I was both incredibly excited, but also hit by a sense of grief. That’s usually how I feel when I read about the Internment,as I’ve covered on here in a couple of other book reviews. But I was also very excited to see what she was going to do with it. Because Alma Katsu is always unique and surprising with her scares that blend history with horror.

Once again Katsu has created a deeply disturbing horror story steeped in historical events that have their own Earthly horrors to them. “The Fervor” has a few different subgenres that it taps into, from contagion horror to political conspiracy to some fantastic Japanese folklore involving yōkai and demons alike, all within the context of the home front during World War II where America had imprisoned its own citizens because of their Japanese ancestry and heritage. I really liked all of it and how Katsu blends it all together, weaving the supernatural elements with the real world ones. There are strange and dreamy moments of kitsune fox spirits, or visions the jorogumo spider demon dressed as a woman in a red kimono who appears with a swaddled bundle, and usually brings disaster if you get too close. I’m familiar with the kitsune story, but the jorogumo spider demon was new and it was so, SO creepy. I mean, spiders are already not my favorite thing, but it was the imagery of the woman in red and the knowledge that something bad was going to happen when she appeared that really set me on edge.

But let’s be real. The greater horror at the heart of “The Fervor” is the horrors of xenophobia and racism and the oppression of the Japanese American citizens under Executive Order 9066, and how the American Government and society at large justified it. In spite of the fact that Meiko and Aiko obviously have nothing to do with the fighting in the Pacific (there are some distant connections…. but that’s all I will say and I want to reiterate that Meiko and Aiko are innocent, like all those held prisoner during this awful period), they are victims of distrust and racism. And once a mysterious illness starts spreading through Minidoka, and mysterious government agents start arriving and acting shady about said illness, we get a whole new layer of horror that has echoes of some of the things we are seeing today. Katsu draws connections between modern day racism towards the Asian American community (especially right now, given that hate crimes again Asian Americans, especially women, have been on the rise in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic), as well as the ways that our government bodies are willing to Other non-white groups to gain power of various kinds, and to keep the darker realities hidden from the public. I’m really trying not to spoil anything. Just know that it all feels like as the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s powerful parallels, and it’s the true horror of the novel.

What’s interesting about this historical retelling horror tale that Katsu has become known for is that the Japanese Internment and World War II is still, for some people, in living memory. With the Donner Party and the sinking of the Titanic it’s been so long that living witnesses aren’t really a complicating factor, but Katsu makes sure that the not so distant time period isn’t complicating to the story she is trying to tell. We have a mix of fictional characters like Meiko, Aiko, and Fran, but also characters inspired by real people like Archie Mitchell, the missionary whose wife was killed by a Fu-Go balloon bomb in Oregon (if you haven’t read up on the Fu-Go balloons it’s DEEPLY fascinating and I recommend you do). Katsu explores all the different angles of these characters and how their races, genders, and social standings have placed them where they are in society, and how that in turn ties into the greater themes of the story. For Meiko and Aiko, their race has made them enemies of the government. For Fran, she is a white woman but is also Jewish, and is also trying to make a career for herself in a world where men have the power to stop her dreams for any perceived misstep. And then there’s Archie, a white Christian man who is in deep mourning due to his wife’s death at the hands of a strange bomb that can cannot get any information on from authorities, who is conflicted between his rage and his guilt for past indiscretions, and how this leads him to some very dangerous people. They are all interesting and complex, and I loved following all of them as they all eventually come together to try and solve just what is happening with this mysterious illness, and how it connects to the Fu-Go’s and the Internment camps. It’s stellar characterization.

“The Fervor” is another disturbing and effective horror story from Alma Katsu. She is doing historical horror in ways that are so unique, and this one has a deep pain and anger within its pages that feels incredibly warranted. One of the scariest things it reveals is that America hasn’t learned much from one of its most despicable moments.

Rating 8: A compelling and still too relevant story about racism, Othering, jingoism, and fear, “The Fervor” is another well done historical horror remix of tragic events from Alma Katsu.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Fervor” is included on the Goodreads lists “Internment Camps in Fiction”, and “2022 Horror Novels Written by Women and Non-Binary Femmes”.

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