The Hunger by Alma Katsu fulfills the category “Book with a Map” for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge. Since February is Women in Horror Month, I posted the novel now rather than part of the horror fest I have planned for October.
The book is an alternate history of the Donner Party with a scary twist. It contains a map of America from 1846 to 47 with the route of the wagon train from Independence, Missouri to Sutter’s Fort in California.
I read the novel as part of a club at my local library. The group, called Grim Readers, reads horror novels and tales of fright. I love it. It’s led by the very capable Trevor Oakley, a reference librarian who really knows the horror genre. The meetings are always filled with great book discussions and rich knowledge of the genre. I love this book club.
I didn’t love The Hunger.
At our discussion, we ranged through many topics the book brought up. Wait, let me give you a quick synopsis—The Donner Party with a supernatural werewolf-like creature stalking them. Okay, on to the analysis.
With so many characters in a historical background, the book gets lost in all the subplots without doing them justice. The story focuses on a few characters of the ninety wagons on the trip. There is the reporter, Edwin Bryant, the single man, Charles Stanton, the possible witch—maybe whore—Tamsen Donner, Elitha Donner, Mary Graves, Keseberg, and the closeted gay man, Edwards. Many people with many stories. The author tried to bring in background for each sometimes to the detriment of the characters. (I’m looking at Tamsin who, spoiler, becomes a great strong woman we respect until we get hit with her backstory.) It’s almost as if the author threw as many tropes into the tale to make it “interesting.”
It’s a forlorn tale of babes lost in the woods, then add in the new supernatural creature stalking them. I wish the author had focused on one survivor exclusively with the other stories as seasoning around her tale. But that’s me. I love structure and plot. I like a story to flow. A flashback is okay, but only if it helps the novel. The bones were there, but the execution missed something.
That’s not to say the book didn’t have things to talk about. We had a great discussion, working through each character and the supernatural villain too. But after all that talk, I still didn’t love the book. I never felt terror or horror or fear. I knew, kinda, what would happen when winter set in and the “scary creature” didn’t have that much scare to it. Trevor mentioned the feeling of all the space of the West, but the party was still trapped and isolated. So there was that, but it didn’t keep my interest. Sorry, Trevor.
I give The Hunger by Alma Katsu Three Oxen, with dysentery.