Goodreads synopsis: Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago – surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous – and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion…by any means necessary.
Fever wastes no time picking up right where Wither ended, with Gabriel and Rhine cold, wet, and on the run. They end up running right into the mysterious and creepy carnival of bodies and sin run by Madame, a shell of a woman draped in gaudy jewelry. DeStefano creates a dark, hopeless, harrowing environment full of sad girls and leering men, this is not the grand getaway Rhine had envisioned. Starkly contrasting the lush confines of Vaughn’s mansion, Madame’s carnival gives readers a picture of what the world is like for those who avoid the gatherer’s vans. Rhine is exposed to a world darker than she imagined and grapples with guilt as she watches Gabriel suffer for her. Make no mistake, this is not a lighthearted romp through Fantasia, this is gritty and raw–the stuff of nightmares.
Without giving too much away, the two do finally make their way to Manhattan. No longer a glistening metropolis, it is a crumbling city, a shadow of its former glory. If it was safety and security Rhine was searching for, she will not find it here. To Gabriel’s credit he doesn’t go rushing back to the mansion with a carefully crafted apology begging for his old job back (trust me, I’d have been banging down Vaughn’s door begging for a hot shower). What fascinated me about this new Manhattan was the people. Life goes on despite the shortness of it. People have taken their anger and turned it toward action, the political tensions are palpable and it’s easy to make connections (whether or not DeStefano intended them to be there) between this fictional Manhattan and the current political climate.
Deftly avoiding the sophomore slump, DeStefano has drawn her world out beautifully, unveiling pieces bit by bit as if pulling back from a zoom to reveal the wide shot. Whereas Wither was (necessarily) insular, Fever pulls back the curtains to thrust readers into Rhine’s world. While Wither hinted at life outside the mansions through flashbacks and dreams, Fever brings those visions to life revealing the desperation and bleakness of this future America. DeStefano proved her ability to masterfully craft characters in her debut novel, in this follow up she hones her craft. No character is flat. No character is without fault. No character is anything less than human. Even the wholly unlikable Madame shows sparks of kindness and vulnerability. Likewise, DeStefano paints her settings beautifully with her words. From the musty smells of Rhine’s home to the heady incense of the carnival, readers are entirely immersed in the world of Fever.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the ending of the book. There is a difference between a cliffhanger and simply stopping a book because you know there is a third installment on the way. Fever ends on a cliffhanger, a great one. You know how season finales of TV shows will wrap up most of the lose ends from the current season but then throw something out there that makes you think you’ll pull your hair out with impatience waiting for the next season to begin? That’s how Fever ends. So now I will sit back and guess about what happens in Sever. Well played, Ms. DeStefano.