REVIEW: The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

5/5 stars — a series conclusion full of revolution, resilience, and healing The second half of the Feverwake duology—at once tragic and hopeful, unsettling and brilliant—is alive with thriller-worthy intrigue. It’s a chess match of mind games and double agents: a perfect complement to The Fever King and an electrifying (sorry) conclusion to Noam and Dara’s stories. It also expands upon the crimes of Lehrer, the most terrifying antagonist I’ve encountered in any media, hands-down. Suffice it to say Victoria Lee has outdone themself with this book. Unlike The Fever King, The Electric Heir features two point-of-view narratives, adding Dara’s voice to Noam’s. I liked the complexity the dual POVs brought to the plot structure (so! much! tension!) and the way they allowed for more exploration of the characters. Seeing Noam through Dara’s eyes was terrifying in the present as Noam was dragged into Lehrer’s control and touching when Dara was considering his earlier (first-book) interactions with Noam. And while a lot of Noam and Dara’s bonding in this book is of the “same trauma” variety, those moments are underpinned with the romance kindled in The Fever King: “Upon reflection, Dara had loved Noam since the moment they met.” Noam and Dara’s journeys form the heart of the Feverwake series, but I have to admit it’s the side characters who stole my heart. I admire Noam and Dara and I’m impressed by their strength, shared healing, and intellect, but I personally related more to characters like Ames and Leo. It’s a mark of Lee’s excellent character construction that secondary and even minor characters have time for their own compelling arcs—and the way those intersect with the primary plot are emotionally fraught and often quite satisfying. I couldn’t possibly review this book without discussing the abusive relationship between Noam and Lehrer and the way it spirals wide to connect with the past, similarly violent one between Lehrer and Dara. Plot elements centered around children and sexual abuse are devastating to read, but Lee’s handling of the subject is incisive, cathartic, and leaves no gray area. At one point, there’s even an in-universe domestic abuse hotline pamphlet that outlines the (real-world) markers of abusive behavior. The “relationship” between Lehrer and Noam hits all its marks: how Lehrer’s home feels like a trap, the way Noam feels sick about Lehrer’s touch but also like it’s his own fault for starting the relationship (which is untrue in several ways, all of which are explored), Noam’s hyperawareness of Lehrer’s every mood and movement, and the way Lehrer distances Noam from his friends and controls his schedule. One line that really drove it home for me was “Lehrer nodded and let him leave. Let.” I also have about a dozen passages in the book marked because I felt they offered insight into the process of coming to terms with and beginning to heal from domestic abuse, and that—Noam and Dara not only having the shared experience but being able to support each other’s healing from it—is one of the most valuable parts of this story for me. One of my favorite lines is Dara’s: “Maybe it was okay to admit helplessness. Maybe it didn’t make them weak.”

Some other highlights of the book that didn’t fit into the above categories

  • the cast of brilliant, revolution-minded young characters—specifically, Noam and Dara voluntarily reading literary works and thinking about philosophy at 17-18 and Bethany just as a person

  • Noam’s friendship with Ames. Dara and Ames have more of a dark history to their friendship (more bonding over trauma, though different traumas, in that case), but Noam and Ames’s casual conversations sound like random things I’ve talked about with friends, and her attempt to help him escape Lehrer while knowing she hadn’t been able to do the same for Dara was heartbreaking.

  • I loved Leo Zhang, a new character introduced in this book. He often plays a sort of “only sane man” role, as when he declines to serve Noam alcohol despite underage characters drinking all the time in the series. “He’s seventeen. He’ll have water,” was the moment Leo won my loyalty.

  • Parts of the story touch indirectly on something I’ve been thinking about often lately: the hazards of treating politicians as celebrities; the danger of “stan” culture in general; and willful blindness to the flaws of someone who’s only human. Lehrer is aware of these things and actively uses them to his advantage. The crowds of people blindly worshiping him were alarmingly apropos to current events.

  • Lee’s writing style. I don’t know why prose tends to be a footnote in my reviews when it’s one of my make-or-break factors for enjoying a book, but the prose in The Electric Heir deserves mention. It’s crisp, by turns cutting and beautiful, and its subdued elegance fits perfectly into the mouths of both its main characters.

If it was at all unclear at this point, I highly recommend this book if you even slightly enjoyed the first one, because this was more of the same but even better. For readers who haven't read The Fever King, check this series out if you're looking for sci-fi magic, powerfully written characters, and deft explorations of quite a few kinds of trauma. (And please check the content warnings for both books!)

Content warnings: on-page sexual assault, mention of rape, domestic violence, eating disorder, drug addiction/abuse, alcohol addiction/abuse and alcohol withdrawal, child abuse, mention of suicide attempts, mention of human medical experimentation, description of needles and drawing blood ** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **