I had my eye on the book for today’s review, The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, for a while due to how intriguing the synopsis sounded. People who eat books and can then retain that knowledge? Sounds pretty great on the whole to be honest!
But even in a world like that, there is danger and not everything is as good as it sounds. The Book Eaters is a wonderful story that reads like a mash-up of a horror, fantasy and contemporary all in one, and I’m excited to see what comes next from Sunyi after reading it.
Full review below!
About the Book
Title: The Book Eaters
Author: Sunyi Dean
Release Date: August 18th 2022
Source: eARC from the publisher provided through NetGalley (this in no way affects my review which is honest and unbiased) physical ARC traded to get and a couple of editions purchased…
Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters is a contemporary fantasy debut. It’s a story of motherhood, sacrifice, and hope; of queer identity and learning to accept who you are; of gilded lies and the danger of believing the narratives others create for you.
Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.
Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.
But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
The Book Eaters is centred around an urban fantasy/horror world, where ‘Eaters exist. The main character, Devon, is one such ‘Eater and one of the titular Book Eaters in fact. Book Eaters are slowly essentially becoming extinct though, largely due to how they live separate and in secret from humans, without any way of getting identification to pass through borders to where other ‘Eaters are.
This leaves the six remaining Book Eater families slightly out of options, and they end up forcing daughters into arranged marriages in the hopes that a girl will be born. Sons are seen as a disappointment, but even worse is when the baby isn’t even a Book Eater, but a Mind Eater instead (identified by a very long tongue).
The Book Eaters starts with Devon on the run with her son Cai, born a Mind Eater, in the present day, carrying out some… extremely morally grey acts. We’re slowly drip fed more of the past throughout, in interchanging past and present chapters, and it definitely helps you to keep your attention and result in you absolutely needing to read more.
To elaborate on the morally grey, one of the biggest factors in this story is that Devon will do whatever it takes to look after Cai. She’s seen as “wrong” for how much she cares about him, when Book Eater women are really supposed to just have the child, look after them for a couple of years and then never see them again. Devon isn’t supposed to have any kind of bond at all.
Likewise, this is a story that delves into the main character discovering her own sexuality. She’s been told she has to be with men, and she has been to keep the families happy, but she realises she actually likes other women. I found it really bittersweet when she meets a man from one of the families… he tells her he’s asexual and the stark contrast seeing how that is just a part of him and doesn’t interfere with his life because he isn’t “required” to make baby ‘Eaters, to Devon having no choice in the matter, is fairly hard-hitting to read.
The world building is fantastic, the book ends up being a kind of hybrid fantasy horror but set in the real world, and there were a couple of endearing characters also. Devon herself starts off as very standoffish from the start, but as we learn more about her story it becomes clearer that really she’s just trying to do the best she can to protect those she cares about.
Quick note about the ending: I’m very glad I bought the Waterstones edition because the epilogue (bonus content) was exactly what I needed after finishing the main book! 🖤
Thank you for reading!
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