by George R. R. Martin
Abner Marsh, a remarkably unattractive but highly skilled Mississippi River steamboat captain, is grappling with a financial crisis in 1857 when he is contacted by Joshua York, a rich, soft-spoken gentleman. They become unlikely business partners when Joshua promises to finance the construction of a magnificent new riverboat that will be larger, faster and more opulent than any other ever constructed.
When finally completed, she is everything Abner has ever dreamed of piloting. The large white, blue and silver paddle steamer is christened Fevre Dream, for Abner's previously failing company, the Fevre River Packet Company. Joshua and Abner co-captain the new vessel, with Abner being solely responsible for her actual command and navigation. Many questions are soon raised by both the crew and passengers about Joshua and his circle of unusual friends, who hardly ever venture out of their cabins during daylight hours. Abner's own suspicions about his mysterious partner begin to grow when he finds scrapbooks in Joshua's cabin containing newspaper clippings detailing many mysterious, unexplained deaths.
He confronts Joshua, who reveals that he and his friends are vampire hunters, using the Fevre Dream as their base of operations to investigate a trail of unusual deaths and disappearances along the river. Eventually, Joshua finally reveals the whole truth: He and his friends are themselves vampires, humanoid beings specialized for and dependent upon hunting humans, characterized by Joshua as "a different race". Joshua has developed a potion, using ancient alchemy and rudimentary chemistry, which controls the "red thirst" of all vampires. This has led many of his kind to consider him the "Pale King", a kind of vampire messiah destined to free them from their dependence on hunting humans. Joshua is on a personal crusade to free his people of their need to feed on human blood, and his traveling companions have all submitted to his control as their lord (or "bloodmaster").
The ancient and evil Damon Julian, a rival bloodmaster, formerly of New Orleans, soon learns of Joshua's efforts. He boards the Fevre Dream with his own vampire followers and manages to overpower and depose Joshua, becoming the new bloodmaster of all vampires aboard the Fevre Dream, including Joshua. Abner escapes, and sets out to hunt the Fevre Dream, which Julian now uses for his own nefarious purposes. After a failed attempt to retake his lost, now demonic ship, Marsh spends his remaining money searching up and down the Mississippi and its tributaries, until he is finally forced to give up. Marsh later serves as an agent of the Underground Railroad and a U.S. Navy officer during the American Civil War, all the while being haunted by the memory of his lost riverboat. Years later, in 1870, after receiving a surprising letter from Joshua, a retired Abner travels to New Orleans to help Joshua finally depose the evil bloodmaster who has ruined both of their dreams. Aboard the decaying Fevre Dream, the two vampires eventually square off, and with Abner's aid, Joshua finally overpowers Julian and becomes the bloodmaster once again.
The novel closes many decades later by suggesting that all vampires, though still effectively immortal, were eventually freed from their blood addiction by Joshua's potion and Abner's brave efforts on their behalf. They make nighttime pilgrimages to Abner's grave overlooking the Mississippi, continuing to honor his heroic contribution to their cause of freedom, Joshua most often of all.