Fever is a historical romance set in the pre-Civil-War South that may well remind readers of the best historicals of the 1970s and 80s. Young Juliette Broussard is rescued from a desolate French convent by her godfather, Max Hollingsworth. Max offers to take Juliette home to Louisiana and install her as a lady in his plantation home, as a courtesy to her late father. Max and Jack Broussard had once been great friends. Juliette, desperate for a way out of the convent, jumps at the chance.
Max and Juliette arrive at Holly House, Max's successful sugarcane plantation, and it isn't long before Juliette discovers the truth: Max plans to marry her to his worthless son, Tylor. He also plans to use the marriage as a means to get his hands on Belle Jarod, the tumbledown plantation once owned by Juliette's father, and now legally hers.
When Juliette runs away and falls into the river, she's fished out by Chance Boudreaux, the overseer of Holly House plantation. Chance, Max's illegitimate son, is the only reason Holly House is successful. He recognizes Juliette as the grown-up version of a four-year-old who once lived nearby. Her resemblance to her beautiful mother, Maureen, is alarming. And irresistible. Maureen Broussard was famous for her infidelities. Chance knows he should stay away from Juliette, but his heart tells him this is the woman he's been waiting for.
Max and Tylor will not be thwarted. Their battle to control Juliette and Belle Jarod unleashes a chain of events that have far-reaching consequences. The climax, set against the backdrop of a yellow fever epidemic, is as suspenseful as any reader could wish.
Gut instinct says this will be a "love it or hate it" book. Many of the slaves talk in Mammy-style dialect that may offend some readers. Tylor and Max are mostly one-dimensional villains, with no twinges of conscience to offset their evil actions. But Chance and Juliette shine. Chance's background as the unacknowledged bastard son is brought to life and paints his character with overtones of pain and resentment. It's easy to see why he tries to hold Juliette at arm's length. Juliette's fears that she is as wild as her mother and will eventually cause Chance's downfall are balanced nicely with her determination to love him, no matter what the cost. She's a strong character, one who is easy to root for. When they finally admit their love, their romance is as steamy as the setting.
And the story has a great flow to it. Events are mostly centered around the plantation and its occupants, with the result that we get to know the secondary characters fairly well. Andrew, Chance's friend who is in love with a slave. Emmaline, Chance's mother, who fears Juliette. Even Belle Jarod is given a distinct personality as a decrepit, dignified lady waiting for a new life, while Holly House is a spoiled socialite, smug and petulant.
Finally, the atmosphere is exceptionally well done. Many of the events center around the river, as they would have on a plantation taking its lifeblood from her waters. The Mississippi's renowned floods, vicious alligators, and swirling darkness lend an eerie sense of mystery to the setting.
Kudos to Pocket for the innovative cover, too. It's a great representation of the story's elements without the usual bare-chested cheesiness.
Fever is an engrossing historical romance that will pull you back in time. You won't leave Louisiana until the story has finished. Enjoy.