Jeff talks about an article he wrote for Frolic featuring some of his favorite m/m hockey romances to read since there’s no hockey on TV. Will lets people know what’s happening in this month’s Patreon bonus episode.
Will reviews Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham while Jeff talks about The Fever King by Victoria Lee.
Julian G. Simmons joins Jeff this week to talk about his work as the narrator of Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin series. Julian shares about how he got the gig and how he prepared to record the books. He also discusses his background in performing as well as his writing and producing projects.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Hockey Players Heat Up The Pages by Jeff Adams on Frolic website
- April 2020 Patreon Bonus Episode on Patreon.com
- Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham on Amazon
- The Fever King by Victoria Lee on Amazon
- Julian G. Simmons Interview
- Julian G. Simmons: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk, Narrated by Julian G. Simmons on Amazon
- Scott Brick on Audible
- Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk, Narrated by Julian G. Simmons on Amazon
- Harper Fox on Amazon
- Talking About Our Generation Podcast
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, Narrated by Mark Bramhall on Amazon
- To Support and Defend on Vimeo
- Lust in Time anthology on Amazon (includes 130 A.D. by Julian Siminski)
- Math Equals Silence by Julian Siminski on Amazon
- Provincelands TV Pilot on UnAuthorized Films website
- Foglifter Journal website
- Hawai’i Review website
- Valley of the Dudes by Ryan Field, Narrated by Ian Dunaj on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Julian G. Simmons
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Julian, welcome to the podcast. It is incredible to have you here.
Julian: Thank you, Jeff. I’m really, really happy to be here with you.
Jeff: So, of course, so many people are going to know you as the voice of Whyborne and Griffin across 12 stories from Jordan L. Hawk.
Julian: Whyborne. Like that one? That’s actually one of them. People’s favorite characters is Christine, even though some people say, well, she’s too nasally this time, so I’m like, I try and be aware of those things.
Jeff: Time passes, people might get more nasally over time, right?
Julian: Well, I definitely can. I’m from Buffalo originally, so we’re very nasal there.
Jeff: Tell us the origin story, how did you get involved with Jordan to become the voice of this series?
Julian: Well, the way it happened was I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and they were having this kind of workshop seminar about narrating audiobooks when it was still fairly new, and I went to this thing. I thought, well, that sounds kind of interesting because I’ve always played with voices and things. I love doing that.
And there was a guy named Scott Brick who was, you know, one of the biggest audiobook narrators there is in the business. He’s done literally thousands of books and there were people from Audible. They’re running this workshop. And they said at one point, can we have some volunteers come up and you can try it and see what you think and we’ll, we’ll critique you.
So of course I raise my hand. And I went up there and I did it. They said, you know, those are pretty good and I realized that I really, really liked it. I then when on the Audible site, and there’s a place where you can join as a narrator, and then you just start looking for projects and you audition for projects.
You send in a, you know, like a three minute audition piece that the author or the publisher puts up that you can then audition to. And I came across Jordan’s first book of “Widdershins” of the series. And one of the things I really, really liked about the book when I was reading about it was that it was about, a couple, that was…
Well, they weren’t quite a couple yet. You know, they were about to meet, but it was, there was a real romance there. And I tend to be more romantic than I am. Just anything else that way. And I’ve been in a relationship for a long time and the characters kind of reminded me of us. I thought, well, I’m going to try for this.
It was an interesting deal because, you know, it was kind of an experiment for Jordan. Looking to see, like, if people could really bring this book to life because there were so many different characters, there was like this variety of characters. And I thought, well, I can do that cause I just love creating characters. I sent in the audition. There wasn’t like pay upfront. It was like, do this, basically gratis, and then you split whatever the income is that comes in from the book.
And I thought, well, you know, I’ll do that. And so we did the first book. I don’t think I did that great of a job with it. I was actually shocked when he hired me and said, you know, yeah, let’s do this. But you know, there are steps like you have to, once you agree to do it, then you have to do like the first 15 minutes of the book and the author has to approve that, or the publisher, whoever you’re working with.
And so there are steps along the way so that they make sure that they’re happy with what you’re doing. But it was also this kind of deal where I had to actually record it as well. And I am like, when it comes to technology, I just can’t, I can’t do, I mean, I can function, I can do the computer and everything and set this up, but beyond that… I wouldn’t know how to start recording and editing an audiobook. I’m much better at the creative. I enlisted a friend of mine who had won an Emmy in sound design for “Cosmos.” And he said, well, I’ll help you with it. But then he got busy. So then I brought in my partner if he would help, because he’s also from the entertainment business.
He’s a director not a writer, producer. So I brought him in and it was really trial and error, you know, that kind of thing. I wasn’t really completely sure of myself you know, when I first heard it, I thought, yuck, you know, this is not really great, but it’s not going to get any better.
So, and then people who, you know, listeners who, who heard the book, you know, a lot of people didn’t really didn’t like it. And I understood, but also, like when I listened to it the first time, I realized that. There was also a lot of that character there in what I had done, that uncertainty because he was, you know, Whyborne was so uncertain about everything in his life and he felt so out of place and such an oddball and all those things that it actually worked for the character and the more people listened to the work, beyond the first book in that the more they people would say to me, nobody else could do these characters, but you, you are these characters and then you know that you can’t give me a better compliment than that. It’s really quite wonderful. So I guess that there was enough success from the first book that Jordan was happy that we went on to do the rest. And 11, actually 12 books later.
Jeff: Yeah. 11 novels in a short story.
Julian: Yeah, exactly. And I’ve really missed them already because I know them so well. It’s like they’re real to me. They’re real people that, you know, I don’t sit around in my living room and talk to, but you know, they are just as real to me as anybody I know. They are so fleshed out because the writing was so good.
Jeff: You’ve performed them now for so long, how do you feel their trajectory has gone as a storyteller across 12 books?
Julian: You know, as the books went on, they became more about the action, you know, then about the intimate relationship because it’s almost, I mean, the sexual relationship – the intimate relationship obviously is there throughout the whole thing and the way they communicate and interact. As far as the sexual, it became less and less about that. Which is good, I guess.
I’m a fan of Harper Fox and of course I’m forgetting the name of it now.
The one about the detective and the boyfriend who is a, or now husband who was a psychic. I’ve listened to about five of them. I’m more of an audio person now because I do them. I love the characters. I think they’re really, really interesting. I’m curious to see… I know I’m talking here a lot… I see when I look at the, the gay community. I see so much of our identity disappearing. It, you know, becoming more homogenized into society. You know, even like neighborhoods and things like something that specific down to just little, little more subtle things. That kind of troubles me a little bit because I don’t want young gay people to forget where we come from. There was a struggle and there’s still a struggle ahead of us, but there was a struggle to get where we are.
And, in that sense, it’s wonderful to read “Whyborne and Griffin” because they’ve dealt with some of those struggles for sure. But there’s also this kind of fantasy quality to the books that allows them, you know, in a Victorian era to be and do the things they want.
The books are about outcasts, you know, one way or another. The oddballs and the nerds that, whatever you want to call them, which is what makes it so wonderful because they all find each other.
I mentioned to you before we started that I host a podcast that’s called “Talking About our Generation,” which is about baby boomers. And the reason I’m bringing it up is because there is something that I talked about there. And people said, well, you know what was it about Woodstock. We did a thing on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. I actually tried to get there with a friend. We were very young in a car, and we were like eight hours away.
Couldn’t get there. There were so many cars on the road. But it was this kind of compelling feeling that you needed to be with people who were not of the norm, if you will. And not that Woodstock was a big gay gathering, but it was for people who just felt different about the world.
I grew up in a really industrial city where that was like not okay. So you were constantly searching for likeminded people.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s why I think even now, all the strides that we’ve made. Why pride month is still so important to have the parade and to have the gathering and to have the, that larger sense of community.
Julian: However that is represented, you know, and there’s a lot of things now there’s some parts of our community, they’re very ultra, you know, just like there’s one element of the community who doesn’t want that element of the community to be kind of part of it anymore because it’s, it’s tarnishing their new view of what they want to look like as gay people.
But all of that, whether you’re a part of that community is. The community, you know, of people who struggled, to get where they, they are now, to give all these freedoms that people have and to be able to have audiobooks that deal with, you know, LGBT love relationships or sex or whatever it is, are coming out, and who would’ve thought that would’ve even been here like 15 years ago?
Jeff: I like how Jordan captures it in these books because I mean, even in this most recent book, there are scenes where Whyborne and Griffin either pull back from each other or quickly change their behavior because they’re about to maybe be seen in a more intimate moment because they are, despite it being kind of an urban fantasy, alternate reality, they still live in a Victorian era where you know their behavior and their relationship would, not be taken well.
Julian: Exactly. Like when they’re walking out on the street, and I think it was the one scene where they’re in Boston, I think, and they wanted to reach out to each other more when they’re driving on the wagon to get to Widdershins through Boston and they can’t show how they feel towards each other.
And people don’t really know what that’s like unless they’ve gone through it. That you can’t show that, of course, back in that era too, people just didn’t show it, period. You know, nobody showed it. It just was not acceptable.
Jeff: What was your impression of the world they inhabit when you first encountered it? Like when you were deciding to go and submit the audition?
Julian: I loved it. The environment that Jordan creates. It’s always rich, it’s rich and full. So, which is what makes a good writer, you know? I’m still learning that in my writing. You know, the importance of creating that environment that your characters are living in because it’s not just about what they think and do. It’s how all those things around them influence them. And that you get the sense, like when you go into the Ladysmith, you know, the museum, you totally get a sense of, you can smell that it’s old, you can, you can hear the echo in the hallways. You can feel the old wood that’s holding the, that’s making up the exhibit cases and all that.
I mean, it’s just, it’s full of. the things that are stored that are weird and bizarre that no other museum has, you know? It’s kind of cool.
Jeff: Across the 12 books, what would you say some of your most challenging moments have been to portray in there?
Julian: Oh my God.
Well, sometimes Jordan will just like pack in like 15 characters into a scene and they all have different voices, and I’m like, Oh my God, how am I going to do this? I would have to switch between voices and that’s like a whole different person. It’s almost like you have to be partially schizophrenia or something and hear voices so that you can get 15 different characters in.
I think most of the time I did a good job with that. There were times when it was excruciating to try and switch between the characters, and sometimes I would forget, wait a minute. Who is this? You know, and then I would have to go back and do it, which is great about recording that you get to go back and fix stuff if it needs to. Sometimes you don’t get the voices quite right and when you listen to it, you go, ah, I don’t really like that. So we need to go back and do that. And it can be, like I said, sometimes it can be a grueling process because one of the things that make Jordan’s book so great is all these characters, but, it’s also a huge challenge to try and not only do do the voices, but figure out, what are these voices going to be, you know? And how do you make them sound at least a little bit different enough so that people recognize that somebody else is talking. It’s not always clear who you know. If you just do this kind of monotone read through, you’re not giving them a world of people. It enriches the whole process so that when they put down the listening, you know, take that earbuds off or whatever, and you want them to go, wow. That was like, I felt like I was there.
Jeff: Yeah. There are some series that I can’t just read the book. I need the audio because the narrator has infused so much into that audio world that it’s like, I don’t want to just read the book and leave it to my brain to figure it out. I want to hear them do it.
Julian: I agree. And I think also there’s the other side of it too, where there are people I know who would pick up one of my audiobooks and hate it and leave it.
And I know that experience because I listened to a lot of audiobooks and sometimes I listened to the samples that they put up on Audible. Like some people, I think, why did they choose that narrator? You know, because this is not the right narrator for this piece.
There’s a lot of books that I would love to narrate, but I also know that, narration is based on what you sound like. I don’t sound like Edward Herman who does historical books and he’s so brilliant at doing them. The one good thing that I have is that I can do a lot of different voices. But you know, most audiobooks, they don’t want you to do a lot of characters. They just want you to just have an inflection so that you know that somebody else is reading it.
I’m reading a, I don’t know if his name [Mark Bramhall], but I’m listening to this book right now called “Angle of Repose”. It’s written by Wallace Stegner. And at first when I was listening to it, I thought, I don’t know if I can listen to this guy for 22 hours. And I was thinking about like sending it back and, and I thought, well, you know, just give it a little more time.
And now I can’t imagine anybody else doing this book. But this guy, I mean, he’s just, he’s that good. So sometimes you have to give it a chance. Give the person a chance to find their footing. Cause always the beginning of the book is always a little bit, not quite what it’s going to be.
Jeff: What’s your preparation process like for these books and dealing with characters and sometimes honestly challenging names?
Julian: There are basic things that I do with every book and that is that I obviously read the book and as I’m reading it, I color code the books. So each character has its own color. And then I highlight, not narration, just actual dialogue. I’ll highlight like, Whyborne was always a pale yellow color. And so whenever he spoke, his dialogue would come up in pale yellow. In the last number of books, Jordan would label the chapter by the character who was, you know, narrating that particular part of the story. So I would keep that. I would always highlight the top, so I knew like who the character is that right.
I’m reading in that chapter to keep track of it, and sometimes I would have to go back over stuff when I was narrating, because Whyborn and Griffin are different, but sometimes they would end up like, wait a minute, that’s that sounds like Whyborne and that’s supposed to be Griffin, so I’d have to go back and fix it.
I color code everything. And then I have charts that as I’m reading, I have one that has all the characters with their color code. So that then when I look at the book, as I’m reading along, I can look and see, Oh yeah, that’s that character. If they’re characters that have recurred over and over again, we keep clips of the voice so that then I can listen to like a 30, 15, 30 seconds of the voice to remember what the voice was that I gave them before. And sometimes they don’t show up for like two or three books. So it was really helpful, you know.
If it’s new characters, like I have to say, the one character that I just really, really did a horrible job, was someone in the beginning with somebody who was Irish. I’m trying to remember, and Irish is not one of my accents. I just can’t. I could do British and German and French and all that, but Irish and Scottish are so distinctive.
If you can’t do them while you shouldn’t do them at all. You know, they’re really just that, that tough.
I’m trying to remember who had a, for example, who’s Cockney, you know, I had to just like, I’ve done Cockney before, but not Cockney women. So I would have to, in addition to the reading, I would then do research to find out like, what did these people sound like and what did they sound like then? I’d keep a list of words that I either didn’t recognize, you know, because a lot of them were just old English words that we don’t use anymore.
So, and sometimes they have different pronunciations. So like the way we would pronounce a certain word here, they would pronounce it in England differently. It’s a challenge, but it’s like, it’s a fun challenge. You know, all work should be that much fun to do as a challenge, you know.
It’s all about good writing. If the writing sucks, it’s really hard to give it what it needs because, well, for me at least, I’m fairly intelligent, so if I see something that is like poorly written, I keep getting drawn into the error of it as opposed to the creation of it, which means I shouldn’t do those books. You know?
Jeff: You’ve got an extensive performance resume. I don’t know if people who see your name on these audiobooks realize that you’ve got a huge career in TV and film and stage and all this other stuff. What got you hooked into like going into the performance profession?
Julian: I got accepted to this program called the British American Drama Academy, which was at Oxford. And I went to study Shakespeare over there. And it was the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life. And my partner was wonderful because he just said, go, you know, do this, which is what I did.
So then when I found things like audio. I didn’t have, like I hated doing stage. I hate it cause the people were right there and I was like, I don’t want to see you. You know? So then it was like TV and film because then there’s just the crew and all that stuff. I was also going against the tide then because, I was obviously gay and there was no place for gay people in TV and film. When I was really trying to make a go at it, you know, there were no roles for people like me and now there are more, not nearly enough. I’m older, so all the people that are getting in the work are these, you know, young people. and so I kind of like was in the wrong place at the wrong time, through a lot of that stuff. But, you know, it made me who I am, and it opened up other doors, like voiceover and audiobooks. I’ve been writing my whole life. Before I went into acting, I was in public relations for like, almost 20 years.
Jeff: And you hinted as you were talking about that, that you’ve also got this other kind of side of you that is the writer that is producer director, not under Julian Simmons. Tell folks a little bit about that too, cause you’ve got some stories and poems they can go read and the documentary that we all probably saw about 20 years ago.
Julian: Right. Well, I co-produced a documentary called “To Support and Defend,” which was about lesbians and gays in the military. And it was when we were trying to make it legal for gay people to serve openly in the military. So we got Cybil Sheperd who I knew through my work with “Moonlighting,” to host the documentary. And It was part of the big March on Washington in ’93 and it was on the main stage there, which Cybil introduced it, and it was on PBS, and we send our people to the Pentagon to deliver it, and they got arrested. These are military people who are actually in the documentary. So we got a lot of press on that documentary. And then we did other things. We recently shot a pilot, which takes place in Provincetown and it’s about the murders of gay men there, which we have been trying to sell. But you know, as much as TV says they want things about gay people, they don’t at the same time. They’ll find any reason not to do it because they’re afraid that they won’t get a big enough market share.
I don’t know. It’s kind of strange. But I’ve also been writing, I’ve written a lot. Journalistically I’ve written, maybe 60 articles and I’ve written a lot of historical pieces.
And then I’ve done writing as a gay author. I wrote something called “130 A.D.,” which was part of “Lust in Time.” It was about the Roman emperor Hadrian and his last days with Antoninus, who was his lover.
Then I wrote a story more recently, which is available on Amazon, and it’s called “Math Equals Silence.” It’s about a young boy, teenage boy, who hasn’t come out yet, and they have an assignment to do something about how Leonardo da Vinci, relates to mathematics. And, so he discovers when he’s doing the research that Leonardo da Vinci was gay. So he uses that as a way to come out to his class. And, it’s kind of an interesting story. I’ve never written a young adult story before, so that was kind of cool.
And, I also love writing poetry. I have a poem called Kennebunkport that’s coming out as part of an anthology from Fog Lifter Press this coming fall 2020. I have another poem that was about my first relationship, which was with a British black man when I was 18. That’s called “That Black White Gay DL Love” and that was published by the “Hawaii Review.”
As I get older, I’m like really getting more and more interested in just writing, and perfecting my writing and, and just seeing if I can go somewhere with that because I mean, I can do audiobooks in my pajamas, obviously, and I can be 90 as long as I have a brain that’s working I can keep doing them. But with acting, you know, TV and film I have noticed just like in the last five years, the opportunities for actors who are older, and I’m lucky I don’t look as old as I am, there’s just like not that many opportunities anymore.
Jeff: Well, we’ll definitely link up to those writing pieces that you’ve got and if that the documentary’s out there to link up to that. We’ll, we’ll do that too so people can kind of see this other side.
Do we get to hear you do more gay fiction, gay romances? Right now the only things that sit on audible for you under Julian Simmons anyway are “Whyborne and Griffin.”
Julian: Well, there is one other book, which I did under the name Ian Dunaj, which Dunaj is a family name. It also means Danube like the river. I did that name because it’s kind of a raunchy gay book. It’s called “Valley of the Dudes,” and it’s based on the “Valley of the Dolls,” but from a gay perspective. So everyone’s gay, popping pills and having relationships that don’t work.
I would love, I would do more gay books. I would like there to be substance to them. You know, like Jordan’s books have tremendous substance. I don’t want to do anything that’s tawdry o, shallow. You know, I want something that really is going to take humanity forward somehow or another, you know, and make gay people feel good about who they are.
I would like to do more of those. I’m putting it out there if, anyone wants it. But, you know, I’ve been approached a couple of times and, it hasn’t, it just hasn’t worked out. And I think also there’s a weird thing like when you’re doing, when you get to be known for one character so much that I think people are afraid to have you start doing their characters because you’re so known for doing that. You know, it’s almost like competition. But now “Whyborne and Griffin” is done, which is very sad for me, not just professionally, but because I love these characters so much. They’re just like, so they’re wonderful people. It’s like you would want to know these people. You know, you’d want them to be your friends.
Jeff: How can people keep up with you online to know what’s next and what you’re up to?
Julian: I’m on Twitter, at Julian G Simmons and I’m on Facebook Julian G Simmons, the same thing. I try and, you know, be a good person and post things, but I don’t nearly as much as I should. I’ve always been good at like, promoting everyone else, but not myself. I’ll try and do a better job of that, but I love to hear from people.
I’ve heard from, like for example, there’s a young woman, she’s African American, lives in New York, and she got in touch with me and she’s interested in narrating. I’ve, over the last year, I’ve kind of been giving her my advice. I listened to what she record something and then I say, well, try this and try that and everything. And it’s just really wonderful to be able to help somebody that way, you know, who really cares about what they’re creating a career for themselves, you know? And they’re young and all that.
And it’s like, I remember what it was like. And a lot of times, you know, I’m sure even you, like when you’re, there are times in your career when you think, I wish I had somebody who could tell me, you know, what I should be doing. And, and instead of making all the mistakes along the way that you maybe wouldn’t have made if somebody told you. It’s nice to have people who can mentor you and give you advice.
Jeff: For sure. It’s great that you’re kind of giving back that way to perhaps the young narrators who are out there.
Julian: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, and there’s always room for more.
Jeff: Well, Julian, it has been incredible talking to you. I’ve enjoyed this so, so much.
Julian: Thank you. Thank you for being here. It’s been great. Thank you very much.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham. Reviewed by Will.
You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t been talking about books recently here on the show. With the global pandemic and social distancing my head just hasn’t been in that particular game. for some reason I wasn’t feeling fiction, but I finally am back in the mood
One of the books that got me back to my happy place was Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham. This is a fake relationship story. It ticks all of the boxes for me, and it reminded me why I love fiction so very much.
It’s the story of Matt and he’s up for a big promotion at his job. The only problem is that in order to quote-unquote fit in at this conservative firm, he’s had to create a fake husband, a guy named Ben, and the reason he’s done this is because he’s still a very young guy and he wants to give the impression that he is, you know, stable and hardworking.
And what better way to do that then come up with a fake husband? The only problem is, is that this promotion is going to hinge on introducing said husband to the rest of the office at a corporate retreat.
So he needs to find himself a husband, but quick. That husband is going to end up being male model Tony.
And he’s been in the modeling game for quite a while now, he’s thinking about the next steps that he wants to take in his life. Primarily, he’s studying to become an EMT, so he agrees to this tropical vacation and pretend to be a fake husband because during his downtime, he’ll be able to study for his exam.
But of course, with all fake relationship stories, things do not go according to plan. When Matt and Tony arrive in paradise, they realize this isn’t a corporate retreat, it’s just Tony, Matt, his boss, and his wife and the other guy who is up for the promotion.
So the next few days are essentially going to be a one on one test to see who’s going to get the job.
Forcing Matt to play nice and play golf, which he doesn’t know how to do. And forcing Tony to spend time with the gals, and go shopping with the wives and have spa days. It’s during these trials and tribulations that they of course get to know one another and realize that their fake relationship may not be so fake after all.
Tony wants to know if this promotion is actually worth it because the people that they’re spending time with are genuinely awful. Matt assures him that it is, but he’s like, really? Are you sure?
Unfortunately, Tony’s cover is eventually blown, but he saves the day using his EMT training when the boss has an unexpected health emergency, but even then, it’s obvious to Tony that all of the pain and suffering that they’ve been going through isn’t worth the eventual prize,
which splits our happy couple up. But eventually Matt comes to his senses and realizes Tony is the one worth fighting for. I love this book so much. I mean, I’ve talked about fake relationship stories over and over again, and these kinds of stories are my happy place.
And I think what dev Bentham does in this particular story is she hits the proverbial trope on the head, and gets everything right, plus she’s come up with two genuinely likable and kind heroes – Matt and Tony, which you also know is something I love – Nice guys falling in love.
It just makes me so very, very happy. So I really, really recommend Temporary Husband by dev Bentham.
The Fever King by Victoria Lee. Reviewed by Jeff.
This may have been a strange choice of reading materials given the times we’re in, but I got very into the world of The Fever King by Victoria Lee. This book is urban fantasy with dystopian themes, political intrigue, thriller elements and magic. One of the things that sucked me in right away was that Noam, the sixteen-year-old lead character is a technopath, meaning he can control technology.
The book takes place in the former United States. Noam, a bisexual, Jewish, Latino son of undocumented immigrants and he’s spent much of his teen years fighting for the rights of refugees that are routinely deported. Everyone is on edge because of outbreaks of viral magic that occur in this war-ravaged country. The virus is dangerous–but if it doesn’t kill you you gain magical powers. The government takes a particular interest in Noam because he survived a magical outbreak but also because of his connections to the refugee cause.
Noam ends up under the tutelage of Lehrer, the ministry of defense and previously king. While Noam bunks with some other magic teens, he’s got private lessons with Lehrer, who also works with his adopted son Dara.
Victoria packs a lot in The Fever King, which makes it a page turner. Noam desperately wants to put his new magic to good use, once he gets the hang of how to use it. It’s very much touch and go, but when he finally gets it the descriptions of how it feels to him to use the magic made this tech geek so happy. It’s also during these learning sessions that Noam and Dara’s very slow burn romance begins. To call them enemies at the outset might be an exaggeration–Dara certainly wants nothing to do with Noam but there’s definitely an attraction. Their journey is intense and not only full of teen angst but also influenced by political and adult-caused issues too. The guys do find the time to explore their feelings though in the midst of the chaos around them which is so very sweet and a welcome pause to the action.
And what action there is for Noam. Is Lehrer actually letting him make progress on refugee issues? Are the people Noam trusted for his entire life actually who he should be trusting? My head spun as Noam got exposed to new information on how to trust, or not and what he should be doing. Victoria weaves the suspense and political intrigue expertly and it’s difficult to describe well without getting into spoilers. I got to where I questioned everything as my paranoia increased about who to trust among the characters influencing Noam. In some ways, Noam has to wonder if he can even trust himself. Much like the world we actually live in, information can be manipulated and sometimes it’s hard to tell what motivates people.
All of that paranoia created a perfect thriller. Noam gets involved a couple of times in pulling off missions, either ones that he’s doing of his own accord or being sent on them by Lehrer. Noam is smart, but he’s also young and inexperienced with his magic and man does that create some tension-filled moments as he’s trying to infiltrate government facilities or trying to get at some intel that might be able to help his refugee friends.
The finale of The Fever King is epic and heartbreaking at the same time and raises a lot of questions. One part of this story arc finishes for Noam but there are many things he still needs to discover. And that slow burn with Dara gets extended too. Luckily, book two in the Feverake series came out in March with The Electric Heir. Rest assured this is very high on my to-read list because I need to know where this story goes next. I am as hooked on Victoria’s story as I was on The Hunger Games.
Kudos also to Michael Crouch. I love what Michael does with narration and he doesn’t disappoint here between his great characterization of Noam, shifting between brave and broken as well as the politically driven Lehrer, as well as the slowly built relationship between Noam and Dara. It all enhanced the story.
So for some urban fantasy, dystopian intrigue, give The Fever King by Victoria Lee a go.