Book Review: The Hunger

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

 

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating – The Hunger is the best book I’ve read this year.

Occasionally, you pick out a book that surprises you, one you weren’t expecting, and bamb! it blows you away. My friends, settle in for nothing but praises for Alma Katsu’s, The Hunger. I loved it and simply can’t say enough good things about it. Honestly, it’s the closest thing to a perfect score that I’ve read so far this year.

I rate it 24 out of a possible 25. (see My Book Reviews for rating explanation)

The premise: The Hunger is a fictional bend on the tragic Donner Party set in the mid-1840s with the cursed wagon train heading west in search of California. We know from history that the Donner Party was a doomed quest resulting in brutal conditions, including cannibalism and god only knows what else. As the wagon train crosses the plains and nears the mountainous regions, something begins stalking the members of the expedition; a creature that kills and devours its prey. As food depletes and winter sets in, the party is forced to a halt in a snow-covered valley, where a small group of people set out to try and find help.

There is just so much about this book that works. For one, Alma Katsu’s writing is superb. No wasted words or flowery rhetoric. It’s full-on story from beginning to end. And her way of describing things is magical. With perfect metaphors, similes, and descriptions that match the book’s dark mood, you’re never yanked out of the story to concentrate on something the author said.

The characters are so believable and though not all of them are historically accurate (which Alma totally acknowledges as intentional to make it fiction), many of them were real people associated with the Donner Party. But it’s the character depths that impressed me so much. A lot of people are mentioned, but the focus is on a few, which works great for a story like this. Stanton, Donner, Reed, Tamsen, Mary Graves… and the list goes on. Each contributing to the story in their own unique and critical way

And don’t worry, it’s not a history book. The Hunger is a work of fiction based on a historical event. Chances are you’ll forget that you’re reading a story that took place in the 1840s. The characters are so real and believable, you’ll make interesting notes of the time period, and most remarkably, the writing sets the book’s mood to one of a pre-civil war setting.

Alma Katsu delivered on this one!

Here are my thoughts and ratings on The Hunger.

  • Craft (5) – So well-written! I was most impressed with the little descriptors, metaphors, and similes that brought it all together. Many times, I’d read a character’s thoughts or a description of their action and think, damn, how on earth did she think to write that? It’s perfect! As a struggling writer, I’m insanely jealous!

  • Pace (4) – The story’s pace was spot-on, but this is where I’ll put my one and only critique (mainly because I don’t have a clue where else to put it). The creatures hunting the wagon train were creepy and vivid. I personally thought of werewolves, but she never came out and said that. My only disappointment was that we didn’t see more of them. Several times, I’d think, Oh shit, the creatures are going to attack now, and they wouldn’t. Often, they’d disappear for great swaths of time, and then pop up later as shadows moving through the trees, which was scary, but I kept wanting more!  

  • Characters (5) – Characters are one of the major strengths of this novel. So well thought out and put together. Each character’s distinct traits, vernacular, and thought process remained unique throughout the story. Heroes rose and fell and surprises lurked around every corner.

  • Story (5) – The story is pure magic. The Hunger is not the first story ever told based on an actual historical event. Often, it can be cumbersome and confusing since the story must remain historically accurate or it all falls apart. Quite often, it just doesn’t work. That is not the case for this one – the story rockets forward from beginning to end and the historical event really becomes more of a backdrop versus being the forefront of the story.

  • Ending (5) – A great ending. Everything wrapped up and the integrity of the actual event was maintained well, I thought. Even though I’d heard of the Donner Party, I was certainly no expert and couldn’t tell you what characters were real and which ones Alma made up, but I can tell you this, if a there was ever a paranormal event that could have been true, it’d be this one. It felt real in every way and ended as it should have.

 

I loved this book! It’s not pure horror, or pure supernatural, or even pure history. It’s just a good story. Not overly gory and at times, takes on the realistic hardships faced by west-bound wagon trains in those early days, which I found interesting in its own right.

If you love a good story, GET IT!

If you don’t like horror, don’t get too overly worried, it’s not pure horror in the sense of slashers, vampires, and mayhem. It’s really quite thought-provoking.

Feel free to leave your thoughts. As always, I’d love to hear them. And I hope you enjoy The Hunger as much I did!