Fever Dreams, by Laura Leone

>> Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I'm rereading a lot these days. One of them was Fever Dreams, by Laura Leone. This one has been reissued with some rewriting, but the book I have is the original.

She’s rich, sophisticated, and dedicated to the family business. He’s rugged, sexy, and into risky business. And he’s the only man who’s ever succeeded in seducing her. Barringtons don’t do such things. Hard-living, fast-loving men like Ransom of the Marino Security Agency do. Even so, Madeleine’s father hires Ransom to protect her.

But placing Ransom within arm’s reach of Madeleine is like putting the fox in with the chickens. And sending them together on a business trip to a war-torn dictatorship is madness! So Madeleine sets some ground rules: No flirting, no touching, and not one single reference to their night together. But Ransom will talk about whatever he damn well pleases. Besides, hell will freeze over before he’ll go near Madeleine Barrington again. But when hell does freeze over in the sultry heat of the jungle, Ransom and Madeleine discover that rules are made to be broken . . .
This one and Linda Howard's Heart of Fire are probably the best "jungle-adventure" romance novels I've ever read. An A.

Fever Dreams is an excellent combination of romance and adventure, each enriching the other. The adventure part is interesting and provides the motivation for some well-done character growth, while the romance is plain amazing.

At first glance, I've seen Ransom and Madeleine hundreds of times before. The rugged, macho bodyguard and the uptight, always-perfect rich girl he has to protect. But these two feel so much more real than these stock characters. They were also much too complicated for these simplistic labels.

The story grabbed me from the very first scene, when serious Madeleine acts completely out of character and has a one-night-stand with the sexy stranger she meets in a bar in Montedora City. Where she does act in character is in refusing to give him her name, and disappearing before he wakes up. Some months later, they meet again when Madeleine needs to return to Montedora and her father hires Ransom as a bodyguard for her. They are shocked to see each other, to say the least.

Ransom reacts badly, but one can't help but understand him, because Leone manages to perfectly convey his hurt at being "fucked and forgotten", as he puts it, especially because he'd woken up that morning filled with optimism at having found someone like the mysterious woman he'd spent the night with. He feels that the rich Ms. Barrington sees him basically as a guy good enough to have sex with, but not to have a relationship with. Madeleine, meanwhile, is terrified that this man will betray her lapse to the rest of her family and that they'll see that she isn't, in fact, perfect.

And that's the situation between them when they leave together for Montedora and end up on the run together, depending on each other to survive. But before that, there was a little detail, something relatively unimportant in the story, that nonetheless said a lot to me. The night before they leave, they each try to "exorcise" the other by spending the night with someone else. In most romance novels, what would happen would be that either both find themselves unable to follow through, or that the hero does sleep with someone else, but the heroine doesn't. Here, they both do it, and they both feel the same way the next morning: that it didn't work. As I said, it was a relatively unimportant incident, but it gave me an important indication of the lack of double standards and sexism that I'd find in the book.

Anyway, back to the story. Given the situation between our hero and heroine that I described above, this could have been a story in which the hero treats the heroine like crap for hundreds of pages due to a misunderstanding about why she did what she did. That wasn't how it happened here. Ransom and Madeleine did distrust each other for a while, but after the first shock, they were pretty adult about this and didn't overreact much. They were able to start seeing beneath the other's protective shell and begin to fall for the real people there even before they each came clean about how they felt about that first night of theirs and before they were forced into close quarters by a blow-up in the Montedora political scene.

And here was where the romance worked so wonderfully: it was in the depiction of the process of their falling in love. As a reader, I could actually feel their feelings... their hurt, their want, their burgeoning fondness for each other. And that's what makes a good romance. It also didn't hurt that the sexual tension could be cut with a knife and that the love scenes were wonderfully steamy.

The adventure part of the story was well done, even if it was the slightest bit too overpowering near the end of the book. But, on the positive side, I loved what being in this dangerous situation did to Madeleine, how it provided a catalyst for her to grow and get over her need to be always perfect.

And how about the setting, how did it strike me, as a South American? It's complicated, but on the whole, my reaction was positive. I appreciated what Leone was trying to do. Montedora was much, much more than a generic jungle-filled Latin American country. The author created a country with its own history, geography and economy, down to income distribution and inflation figures. She created a complex political situation, with rival rebel groups and rival government factions. I'd give her an A for effort.

However, I'm afraid many of the details didn't ring true, at least to me. First of all, why situate Montedora in South America? I know this continent, and Montedora didn't feel South American.

My impression was that it was modeled on the image one has of some Central American dictatorships in the late 70s - early 80s. And there's that little tidbit about how the country had gone to was with one of its neighbours over the result of a football game (which Leone calls "soccer", of course!). Now, *that* incident is obviously based on the war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, which wasn't actually because of the result of the football game, but did start shortly after it.

I also had trouble understanding where exactly in South America Montedora was supposed to be, though I suppose this might have been exactly what the author intended. The info we get in the text is that it's a landlocked country, in a mountainous area, where there used to be gold in the mountains. It limits with Brazil to the north and Argentina to the south. Problem is, the only place where you have Brazil to the north and Argentina to the South and the distance between these two borders is relatively small is in eastern Paraguay, near the Iguazu falls (an area, BTW, which some in the Bush administration proposed attacking after 9/11, because of alleged links between the areas large arab community and al Qaeda). Just look at the map here. No mountains there, not even close. Oh, well, it's fiction, Rosario, just let it go!

Then, I had a bit of an issue with some of the names in the story. Nothing *obviously* wrong, just things that didn't sound completely right to my native ear. Stuff like the president being called "de la Veracruz", when plain "Veracruz" would sound more natural (I repeat "de la Veracruz" is NOT wrong, there probably are hundreds of people with that name around, for all I know. It just sounds more like a foreigner's idea of what a Spanish name would be than like a real Spanish name). Other examples: the name of the country (I'd have chosen Montedoro, with an "o"), or the "Seguridores", the secret police, a play on the word "seguridad" (safety, or security), which ends up sounding like made-up nonsense, not like a plausible name. Still, I can't fault Leone's research, because all my objections are for things which she had to make up. I had no problem at all with the snatches of Spanish used, they were all perfectly correct.

I must repeat that I did like the setting. I've gone on and on about my criticism, I know, but it's just nit-picking, really. Nothing a non-South American would be bothered by. On the whole, the setting works fine.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. Now, if I could only get my hands on a copy of Fallen From Grace...


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