Publication Date: August 2nd, 2022
Hardcover. 304 pages.
About The Book Eaters:
"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 one of the most inventive and truly engrossing fantasy novels I've read in a while. This story takes readers on a whirlwind deep dive into the world of the book eaters and all that that life entails, which was much darker and more dangerous than I expected. I didn't know exactly what I was getting into based on the premise of The Book Eaters, but I think it was more than I bargained for in all the best ways.
Devon Fairweather is a princess among the Fairweather family of book eaters at Fairweather Manor. Her role as a female daughter means that she is raised consuming only fairy tales and similar tales in order to prepare her for her role as future wife and mother to continue on the line of book eaters. The problem, you see, is that book eaters are dying. They are a species slowly running out of time and lines in the family tree, so daughters are of utmost importance in carrying on the family line, and arranged marriages are a must and are carefully planned out. Devon, however, finds this pattern abhorrent and seeks her own escape from the book eater families to carve out a life with her son, Cai, who would otherwise be taken away from her to live with a different book eater family while she would be sent off to another marriage and pregnancy.
Book eaters are a species that appear as human, but are not actually human. Rather than subsisting on food and water, they exist solely off of a diet of books. What they eat is what they know, and different types of books actually do have different types and preferences (glossy pages, for instance, are not as nice to eat as regular pages). Occasionally, book eaters give birth to children who do not have a penchant for eating books, but rather for eating the minds of humans, and Devon's son is one of these.
Devon is a fascinating character and her role as a mother who will stop at nothing to make sure her child survives the best he can makes her utterly compelling for me. Devon has to make a lot of truly difficult decisions, probably some of the hardest decisions someone might have to make, both for herself and in order to ensure the survival of her son. To what extent is she willing to make sacrifices for her child, and along with that, is there any point at which the cost of survival and protecting your child is too far?
The Book Eaters alternates chapters between the present, when Devon and Cai are on the run trying to survive, and the past, from Devon's childhood into young adulthood and her marriages and pregnancies. I thought the pacing worked well with this format and I liked getting to explore both timelines in evenly written bursts that kept me hooked, but never overwhelmed with information or any one particular setting.
This book has a lot of dark moments that I didn't really expect, but that fit extremely well with the overall tone and themes explored throughout (as you can probably guess from how I've described things so far). There's a lot to unpack, and I appreciated that Dean took the time to explore a lot of different themes and ideas through her storytelling and watching the characters adapt to and learn to survive in their environments. I particularly appreciated the theme around love in that it's not always good or beautiful, that sometimes love is ugly and bad and is the reason why we do bad things. I loved exploring this type of love and everything it entails.
Sunyi Dean packed a huge punch with this book. I listened to an early copy of the audiobook and loved the narrator, Katie Erich. She did a truly fantastic job with this one and I think she fit the atmosphere of the story perfectly and captured all of the characters in a very real and fitting manner. There was a brief Q&A between Sunyi Dean and Katie Erich at the end of the audiobook and I thought including that was a great choice because I feel like it really helped me get more out of the story and learn a bit more about Dean's thoughts and processes behind her story-building. I also loved hearing her and the narrator's opinions on Devon and other aspects of the story.
Overall, I highly recommend this dark, inventive story that will keep you constantly wondering what Sunyi Dean will throw at readers next. I really enjoyed the audiobook version of this and think it will be a great story in all mediums (which makes me think–how cool would a graphic novel of this book be??). I am really excited to see what the future holds for Sunyi Dean and her work!
*I received a copy of The Book Eaters courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*