Earthy. If I were to quantify Fever in just one word, it would be earthy. I finished reading this book days ago and have been considering how to approach the review ever since. Parts of are really good; parts are not. Some characters are well drawn; others are stereotypes. The plot works, mostly, but also fails on occasion. Sections seem choppy and unfinished. If the (single) love scene had lived up the sexual tension generated between the hero and heroine, this book would have been hot, but it didn’t, so it wasn’t – that was a letdown.
Fever is the story of Juliette Brussard, the most beautiful girl in Louisiana (save for her late mother, Maureen, who held the title before Juliette). The hero, Chantz Boudreaux, is the sexiest bastard in Louisiana. When Juliette was four years old, Chantz, then fifteen, saved the little girl when Belle Jarod, her father’s plantation home near New Orleans, burned to the ground. Maureen was killed in the fire. For the last fifteen years, Juliette has lived in a convent in France where her father sent her after her mother’s death.
Jack Brussard has put a bullet through his brain, and his oldest friend and neighbor, Maxwell Hollinsworth, has come to Paris to take Juliette back home. As her godfather, he is now responsible for her until she marries or reaches the age of twenty-one. Maxwell’s plantation, Holly House, is overseen by Chantz, a man known for his forthrightness, fairness, his good looks and sexual prowess, and his ability to grow the finest sugar cane in the South.
The basic plot is this: Belle Jarod was the wealthiest plantation in the South and grew the best cane. Max wants Belle Jarod, but he also wants Juliette, who reminds him of her mother with whom he was having an affair at the time of her death. Maureen was, apparently, a real slut, desired by every man she met – something virginal Juliette is trying desperately to live down. Chantz is the bastard son of a mud dauber (apparently a lower life form) whose father is none other than Maxwell Hollinsworth. Maxwell’s only legitimate son, Tylor, is a real jerk right out of antebellum Central Casting (mean, drunken, cowardly, cruel, whiny, desperate for his father’s love). Liza, a slave who was also fathered by Maxwell, which makes her half-sister to both Chantz and Tylor, is in love with Andrew, Chantz’s best friend, but it’s illegal for a White to marry a Black, so their love suffers in secret. Juliette wants to raise Belle Jarod to its former glory, but it will take money, or a strong man, to get the job done, and she refuses to use slave labor.
Juliette is a feisty heroine. She stands up for what she believes, she detests slavery, and when her man is unjustly and severely punished, she strikes back, literally. She’s so attracted to Chantz, she’s worried she’s just like her mother and fights to keep her emotions and lust under control. I had some problems with how easily Juliette adjusted from speaking French basically all her life, to using non-colloquial English on her return to Louisiana.
Initially, I was put off by Chantz. We first see him having sex in the local whorehouse, but the lady comments that he’s the only one of her customers who gives her as much pleasure as he takes. From this interchange, the reader is shown that Chantz is a gentleman in his own way. He resents the fact his daddy has never acknowledged him (although everybody and his dog knows that Maxwell is his father), and that he and his mother have been forced to live in comparative squalor while his half-brother, Tylor, lives in luxury.
Chantz is one tough dude. In the course of the story, he is viciously beaten, his leg is nearly torn off and he’s almost drowned by an alligator, and he’s whipped to within an inch of his life, yet he manages to crawl immediately out of bed after each encounter, mount a horse, and get to Juliette before any harm comes to her.
The sexual tension between Juliette and Chantz is apparent from the beginning and while they share some hot kisses, the culminating love scene is short and scant. It was almost an oversight and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the book. When the couple is together, however, they are tender with each other and their encounters are romantic.
Some scenes that should have been included are not; we are told about the events afterward. We never get to have a love scene from Juliette’s point of view, and some choices the author makes didn’t seem to make sense. There is one line that simply stopped me in my tracks. “As dust lifted and danced in the spear of sunlight pouring through the glassless window, reason felt as gossamer as the crepuscular rays pouring over Juliette’s face and hair.” Crepuscular? I had to look that one up (it has nothing to do with crepe or pus; it means “like twilight” or “dim”).
Many things happen in Fever and the book did hold my interest. However, plot contrivances annoyed me: Juliette tells Chantz she loves him, but he seems to forget about that and concentrates on how she only wants him so he can run Belle Jarod for her. There is a rogue bull alligator on the loose and seems to have it in for Tylor (think Captain Hook). There is so much that’s good about this book that it’s frustrating that the not-so-good parts have brought it down.
The premise of Fever was interesting and it kept me turning pages. I never got bored and found myself interested in what would happen to each character. Definitely a cut above the average read, I can recommend this book, despite adding this caution: it’s both more and less than I expected. But then, I am sometimes a little crepuscular.