As anyone who follows my blog will know I read and review mostly Crime and psychological thrillers, but once in a blue moon I like to step out of my comfort zone and read something completely different. When I saw the cover for The Hunger with “turn back or you will die” written all over it I knew it was a book I had to read even though I had no idea what it was about. So imagine my dismay when I read The Hunger book description and realised this book was part historical fiction, which is definitely a genre way out of my comfort zone. So I picked up this book with some, ok a lot of trepidation, did I regret it? Read my thoughts further down the post, but first the book description.
After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.
Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.
Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu is part historical fiction and part supernatural/horror. Based on a true story the author has masterfully blurred the lines between fact and fiction, even the fictional parts seemed very credible which made this book even more chilling to read. Based on the Donner party’s tragic crossing of America in the 1840s, it follows a group of settlers who head across the unrelenting plains in search of new beginnings but find themselves hunted by an unknown prey.
The author has an extraordinary ability to describe her settings, and the difficulties faced by the Donner party with such conviction that I felt like I was there along side them, I felt their fear, despair, and paranoia growing as the ill fated party struggle to survive in a hostile environment. The first half of the book is slow but please don’t let that put you off, as the author builds tension into the plot through her characters, and the threat of the unknown as children start to go missing. Each pioneer has joined the journey for a very different reason and each one has something to hide, which brings an authenticity to the story so the reader feel as if they really know and understand the characters. As the book progresses the characters secrets are revealed fuelling the tension, mistrust and violence amongst the pioneers.
Alma Katsu’s writing is poetic at times as she describes a journey that causes hardship, hunger and madness. The writing is intense and steeped in atmosphere, as the reader the sense of foreboding grows. The Hunger is broken into months which I thought worked very well, it shows how relationships can fracture when faced with adversity and the lengths people will go to to survive.
As each month grows darker, the author describes the decline in the Pioneers, hunger and fear begin to overwhelm them, with that comes discord within the party with themes of jealousy, lust, mistrust and the forefront.
As the pioneers find themselves stranded, starving and fighting for survival the horror/supernatural aspect of the novel takes over and that’s when The Hunger comes into its own. At this point the atmosphere becomes much darker, the sense of dread more palatable. The author has created a terrifying and deeply unsettling story, reminiscent of The Revenant with a hint of the supernatural, it’s a book that turned out to be a hell of a read considering I picked it up with reservations. Highly recommended.
Buying link: Amazon UK 🇬🇧
Print Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Transworld Digital (6 Mar. 2018)