I came across Fever by doing a search for lesbian fiction at my local library. This title was available for request and I've read several other Bold Strokes books that I liked. I was also intrigued by the blurb, which mentions an African setting. Unfortunately, a weak conflict and confusing details made Fever a miss for me.
The basic setup is appealing. Heroine Zak Chambers has been hired to escort Sara Ambrosini, do-gooder rich girl, to Kenya's bush country. Sara plans to build a primary school for tribal children. Zak is a secret agent something-or-other who knows the area well.
The story starts off murky and stays that way. In the opening scene, for example, Zak's boss calls her Ebony. She's described as having tightly curled black hair and a "bittersweet connection" to Africa. We learn later, from Sara's point of view, that Zak's skin is pale, but I continued to wonder if she was of African descent. In Kenya, she speaks fluent Swahili and calls one of the Masai tribesmen "brother." She also has an intimate friendship with this man's sister. I finally inferred that they weren't actually related. Maybe Zak's heritage is addressed and I skimmed over it. Or perhaps the author felt as though readers would assume Zak was white unless otherwise stated. I'm still in the dark.
Not only is Zak's ethnicity a mystery, so are her motivations, her past, and her actions. She's just come off a difficult undercover assignment in which she had to seduce a female suspect. The suspect was cleared of wrong-doing and Zak left without explanation, breaking her heart. I'm not sure why the relationship had to end, since the woman was innocent, but whatever. Zak seems to think that because she hurt ONE woman, she's doomed to repeat the cycle FOREVER. She rejects Sara many times for this reason. It's a tiresome conflict that feels contrived.
I had some problems with Sara's character as well. She's supposedly a savvy businesswoman but she doesn't act very smart. She has a sleazy, shallow girlfriend who flirts with Zak right under her nose. On the plane, she gets drunk and engages in ridiculous babytalk because she's afraid of storms. She doesn't seem to know the first thing about the Masai people. Building a school in Africa is her late mother's wish, not her own. I understand that Sara is the femme in this equation, soft and vulnerable where Zak is strong and tough, but I couldn't get over the initial portrayal of her as childlike, silly, and uninformed.
Although the characterizations didn't work for me, I was engaged enough to keep reading. The Masai cultural details seem authentic and the African setting is well-realized. I also enjoyed the love scenes, which are sparse but intensely erotic and unusual. For the sex alone, this book is discussion-worthy.
There is a rough sex scene in the second half. Zak jumps on Sara in a haze of passion, touching her forcefully. I was-confused. I felt skeptical that any woman would react like a mindless alpha male, intent on penetration. Zak is all worked up, so she wants to finger Sara really hard!
To her credit, Sara tells Zak to stop and takes control of the encounter, soothing Zak's overwrought emotions with gentle, almost delicate cunnilingus. This part of the scene is steamy and nuanced and very effective.
Overall, I found Fever too uneven to recommend. I'm conflicted about the grade because other readers might consider these characters enigmatic, rather than annoying. I also skimmed a lot. Maybe I missed the good stuff! I'll give the author bonus points for vivid scenes, decent writing, and a unique setting. C-
BoldStroke Books can be purchased in ebook format but only from its website as far as I can see.