Published by Chicken House, 2022.
“Disease begins with a feeling, Miss Darke. It has been that way ever since the turn – when people’s feelings first started making them ill …”
Since the world fell sick with fantastical illnesses, sisters Payton and Ani have grown up in the hospital of King Jude’s.
Payton wants to be a methic (a research doctor) like her father, working on a cure for her mother’s sleeping fever. Ani, however, thinks the remedy for all illness might be found in the green wilderness beyond the hospital walls.
When Ani stumbles upon an imprisoned boy who turns everything he touches to gold, her world is turned upside-down. The girls find themselves outside the hospital for the first time, a dark mystery unravelling …
I absolutely loved Once Upon a Fever! The two sisters at the heart of the story are strikingly different, but both are fiercely brilliant. Payton is a traditionalist, loyal to the ways of the methics and trusting of their work and beliefs. Ani is more rebellious, questioning the methics’ practices and seeking an alternative. Both are determined to find a cure for the water fever which keeps their mother suspended in a watery world, trapped between life and death. The girls are headstrong, capable and driven – just how I like my female leads.
The story is set in a parallel London – one of powerful guilds, strange illnesses and sprawling gothic hospitals. Green spaces have been replaced by buildings and any parks or forests which do remain are locked and closed off to the public. It’s a dark and frightening place – too much power in the hands of the methics and financiers, and ward upon ward of patients imprisoned by their illnesses. Unscrupulous methics develop methods and treatments with little regard for human life or patient well-being.
I love how Once Upon a Fever prompts the reader to reflect and ask questions. It considers some very important themes: medical ethics, private versus public healthcare, and the regulation of human emotions.
At the heart of the story are the methics’ fixed beliefs about feelings, and I found this aspect of the book to be particularly fascinating. The methics’ assertions that difficult and uncomfortable feelings are dangerous and should be suppressed have come to be accepted by society. Medicines and treatments numb feelings and cause apathy and inertia. The Guild of the Wilders has long been disbanded, and forced to give up their nature-informed more holistic practices. Some Wilders, however, have survived and continue to work in secret. Their belief that we should acknowledge and live through uncomfortable feelings is one that sits more easily with me and their recognition that there’s more than one way to save a life is powerful and pertinent.
It’s true, some people need medicines and nursing. These things are important for healing. But we mustn’t forget other important, healing things. Things like diving into cold water, sleeping beneath the stars, eating fruit that’s grown warm under the sun. Lying on the grass and thinking of nothing except the shapes of the clouds.pages 173-174
Once Upon a Fever is an original and absorbing book which I thoroughly recommend.
Suitable for children aged 10+
Thank you to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.