Fever by Deon Meyer
It’s our near future and the world as we know it has come to an abrupt halt. It was a fever that brought an end to our global societies, an unexplained fever. Few survived, and of those who did even fewer made it through the Darwinian regression that followed. Thirteen-years-old Nico Storm and his father, Willem, are two of the lucky ones, or are they?
There are spoilers in this.
Nico and his dad move through the remnants of the former South Africa in a commandeered truck that they try to keep stocked with whatever essentials they can find along the way. It’s not an easy life. Nico must deal with the loss of his mum, who was a government scientist, to the collapse. It brings him closer to his dad, a good man who cares deeply for his son, but to what end. What future do they or anyone have?
When they visit an abandoned town beside the Vanderkloof hydro-electric dam, they experience an encounter that is to change their relationship forever. Willem becomes sick after being attacked by feral dogs, a major problem in the new world, and they seek refuge in Vanderkloof town as he recovers. Two male travellers arrive with a woman chained in their vehicle. Although they leave without discovering the father and son, they move only a short distance along the valley where they appear to have a HQ.
Upon Willem’s return to relative health, he insists that they must go to the assistance of the abducted woman. Unfortunately, Willem is a man with big ideas but without the necessary fortitude to carry them out. His pacifist inclinations do not sit well in a world now shaped by violence. In a confrontation with the kidnappers, Willem hesitates to shoot and almost dies. 13-year-old Nico has no such weaknesses and kills both men. The roles of protector and protected are seemingly reversed, but it deeply unsettles Nico.
Willem has a grand plan to create a township at Vanderkloof for those who wish to live a life free from violence, want and danger. To this end he recruits others of a like mind, including some with reservations. He hits it lucky when he meets Hennie Fly, a pilot with a plane who spreads the word of Willem’s project. People flock in. Soon Vanderkloof has a vibrant community of varied individuals determined to build something that will last.
But South Africa has more problems that just feral dogs. There are Mad Max type gangs, known informally as the KTM, roaming the land stealing, plundering, raping and murdering all who get in their way. The new Township is a juicy target ripe for pillage. They get hit hard by some very professional operators and lose much of their weaponry and food, but gain a new perspective on how to approach these problems.
The two greatest weapons that the New Community possess are Domingo and Cairistine ‘Birdy’ Canary. Domingo is a dangerous man with an intimate knowledge of both weaponry and violence. After the KTM’s raid, he is given responsibility for ensuring that nothing like this can happen again. Domingo forms his own community militia and prepares the settlement for inevitable future attacks.
Birdy is a physicist with the smarts to provide technology for the community. She manages to get the hydro-electric running again, and helps with the production of new fuel as petrol becomes unusable due to degradation. Birdy is invaluable to the community of Vanderkloof as it moves from ragged attempt at civilisation to one where order has been established and fear of starvation or murder removed.
Willem stands as the elected head of the community and, as such, is admirable in his conduct. He is a real statesman who has principles, scruples and morality, all backed up by a fierce desire to provide something more for his growing son. Vanderkloof grows in every positive way.
Of course such a community is not without its troubles. There is Pastor Nkosi, a Christian fundamentalist who sits on the community’s committee. Nkosi is a firebrand who demands a greater place for Jesus in the settlement. There is a great degree of hatred between Nkosi and Domingo, based upon differing beliefs, although they are not so different in their willingness to use violence to achieve their ends. Nkosi is a stubborn man who will not stop until he gets his way in establishing a community based upon solid Christian beliefs and practices. Domingo will not allow that to happen in Vanderkloof. Trouble brews constantly.
The KTM, meanwhile, are still rampaging over the entire area. As the years progress and Nico grows into a very capable teenager and one of Domingo’s most trusted soldiers, the danger from the KTM does not diminish but grows. Stories abound of the horrors of KTM raids. Domingo knows that sooner or later they will attack the community again. He is proved right. This time Vanderkloof is better prepared although they suffer many causalities. Nico again steps forward and helps to save the day with his excellent marksmanship. It makes a hero out of him and he secretly revels in it, from a population of thousands now.
It is just after this time that the beautiful Sofia Bergman arrives in Vanderkloof. Nico loses his heart to her but Sofia sees him as an arrogant young fool. Nico can only look on with desire as Sofia rejects his advances. He’s not alone in feeling that way as Domingo is besotted with Birdy who also proves elusive. Who would have thought life could be so complicated in the chaos of a post-Apocalyptic world.
The bigger the township and community of Vanderkloof becomes, the fatter the prize it is for the KTM. Domingo reasons that offence is the best means of defence and resolves to take the fight to the thugs. Nico is there from the outset as the Vanderkloof ‘Special Forces’ hunt down and kill the gangbangers. But for all the success that Domingo has, they cannot discover the whereabouts of the leaders of the KTM movement. It’s a loosely formed alliance of separate biker gangs, but there is a central organising committee, hidden from Domingo and his people. Yet they persevere as they know they must destroy the KTM before another even stronger attack on Vanderkloof takes place.
Community politics, external threats, a battle for resources, love, sickness, hopes and dreams, it all plays out against a backdrop of the Apocalypse in South Africa. The story runs over many years, approximately six, as we watch good people struggle to fashion order out of chaos. There are many sub-plots weaving their way through the tale. It’s related, at times, in the form of accounts taken from the citizens of Vanderkloof for an archives project. We get personal backgrounds and viewpoints from various members of the community which adds nicely to our understanding of the people there. At other times, Nico relates the story, referring frequently to the murder of his father, turning the entire story into an engaging whodunnit.
Throughout, we are given an intriguing suggestion that there is something much bigger going on across both South Africa and the entire planet, as mentions of helicopters and British naval vessels are brought into Vanderkloof, but no one knows where they are coming from or who they belong to. Rebel Voice is pleased to say that we figured out at least some of the answers before the denouement contained in the final few chapters. We won’t share them with you as it may be one spoiler too many. Suffice to say that it’s worth waiting on.
Fever is a very good read. It’s not perfect, far from it. But the settings are new for the western world, the concept is old but the approach is fresh. The characters are not entirely complete even if they are largely consistent. There are flaws. One big one is Nico’s reaction when he makes the horrific discovery that casts the entire Apocalypse in a new light. His conduct is so out of place as to be laughable, almost. He is also portrayed at the end as someone who should be delivering boxes of Dairy Milk to the woman he loves. Very kitsch.
For those who enjoy end-of-world stories, this is going to be a book you will be unable to put down. The depictions of the South African countryside are extremely vivid. If you are partial to a murder-mystery then you will get something out of this. If you would like a taste of a different culture, or of a different South Africa, then Fever is your book. All-in-all, there should be something in this novel for everyone.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. This is a well thought out and cleverly presented story that hooks from the very start. It’s The Road with less bleak prospects. Rebel Voice is a fan of stories that take us to new places not necessarily seen in western fiction. Fever is one such book and, as such, is recommended.
Here’s another Apocalyptic novel:
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