The Fervor: A Novel

Meiko is the Japanese wife of Jamie Briggs, a white US Air Force pilot fighting in World War II. Meiko, and her daughter Aiko, are “residents” of the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. A few days ago, an unscheduled truck came to the camp. The residents are told to stay away from the truck and guards are posted around it. It leaves shortly after whatever was inside is unloaded under the cover of darkness. Shortly after the truck leaves, residents of the camp begin to become ill.

Fran Gurstwold is a journalist for a small newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska. While staying in a cabin near Lake Ogallala, Fran witnesses something flaming fall from the sky. When she investigates it appears to be some sort of balloon, but she doesn’t seem to be able to find any news from credible sources about the occurrence. And now people in the area are beginning to get sick. No one knows what is wrong with them or how to treat them.

Archie Mitchell is the pastor of a small church in Bly, Oregon. He has driven up to Gearhart Mountain for a picnic with his wife Elsie and some of the congregation’s young parishioners. As they are unloading the car and preparing for the day, Archie sees something flaming fall from the sky, followed by an explosion. There are only two survivors of the blast: Archie and one of the children. While Archie’s injuries are superficial, the child’s injuries are much more severe. While she is being treated in the hospital, she becomes sick in a way no one understands.

Alma Katsu, who is known for weaving horror into historical events, takes a slightly different approach in her new novel, The Fervor. While she does use the past for her setting, with historical events integral to the story she is telling, The Fervor is as equally troubling a statement about our present as it is about the past.

Drawing from the Japanese internment camps and the Fu-Go “fire balloons“ of World War II, Katsu tells a compelling story of bigotry, racism, paranoia, and xenophobia. While she does introduce some truly unnerving supernatural elements to propel the plot, and enhance the dread, the true horror of the story is the very real hate that one human can unleash on another, for little to no reason.

During a period when documented hate crimes against persons of AAPI descent are at an all-time high, and instigated, and in many ways, encouraged, by the previous administration, The Fervor becomes all the more chilling and disturbing than a typical horror novel. The real threat in The Fervor is real and affecting people around us as we read the book.

Just as Sarah Langan illustrated in her 2021 novel Good Neighbors, with The Fervor Alma Katsu shows that the most frightening, hurtful, and harmful things can, and are, done by people to other people, and that humans are the only true monsters. The Fervor is a terrifying and horrifying read. 

There is more about the book, and its author, in this inteview.