The Hunger – Alma Katsu – Horror – 2018
Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.
Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.
While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”
I first heard about this book when it was recommended on the Books in the Freezer podcast. It’s a really interesting premise and I thought it was a well-written novel which was clearly well researched.
Part of the problem I found in the book, however, is that it is told from so many different characters’ perspectives it was difficult to tell them apart. I couldn’t keep track of many of the characters because there was no individual personality so I often lost the idea of whose narrative I was supposed to be reading.
Even halfway through the novel I didn’t find myself connecting to any of the characters. I think if there were only a couple of stronger personalities telling the story I’d have cared more about the story. This could be because I didn’t know the story of the Donner party before I started the novel, but I also found it uncomfortable that imagined storylines such as homosexuality, promiscuity and sexual assault were put onto characters that were actually real people. There is no evidence I could find online that suggested one of the people was gay for example, and it kept taking me out of the story.
I really liked that the author included a historical note at the end of the book. Not being from the USA I had never heard of the Donner party so when I did a little research I found the story fascinating – I do wish that there had been a timeline included though because at times it was confusing to know when events were supposed to have happened.
This is a well-researched book – although the pace can be slow at times, this is generally because so much information was included. If you enjoy slower, more literary books the pace may suit you but if you are expecting this to be a fast-paced horror, this book may not meet your expectations.
I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5. If you are a fan of slower moving historical fiction / horror this is a well-written book, but I personally found putting imaginary “sins” onto historical people a bit uncomfortable.