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March 13, 2019

The Hunger by Alma Katsu - #BookReview #Horror #DonnerParty

by Alison DeLuca

I was really excited to read The Hunger by Alma Katsu. The sneak peek on Amazon was Katsu's Prologue, which was both fascinating and scary. I'd always wanted to learn more about the Donner tragedy, so I purchased it right away.

cover of The Hunger

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At first, the story sucked me right in. The characters were fascinating with gripping backstories, especially the tortured Charles Stanton. Handsome and charming, he's also filled with self-loathing from a terrible incident in his past.

Tamsen Donner is also compelling, with her beauty and loveless marriage. She's got a lot of hidden layers, which Katsu unpeels as the party approaches the final passage across the Sierra Madre.
Katsu takes the Steven King approach: "I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose."

I devoured the sections about James Reed and Mary Graves, as the Hunger skips from one character to the next as the plot develops. Don't worry - each person is so unique you won't have trouble following who's who.

There's a delicate and forbidden romance that I really enjoyed, but anything I say about it will be a spoiler. I'll just add that Katsu creates a Western Romeo and Juliet, and it's beautiful.

The historical details are also fascinating: the huge wagon Donner insists on taking over the mountains, wide enough to house feather beds and extra luxuries. These details are used to great effect. I could feel the despair when one family opened one of their last flour bags to find it infested with weevils.

alternate cover of The Hunger

Hunger itself almost becomes a character, making people boil their belts and chew rawhide. They go without food for so long that one begins to think hunger might be a disease, and he's cured himself.

This is a paranormal horror novel, so Hunger takes on a darker, more mysterious tone as the party continues on their doomed trek.

And, to be honest, that's where the novel let me down. I'm all about horror and speculative reimagining of history. However, what happened to the Donner Party was so terrible in real life that no paranormal monster can reach that level of fear.

image of Starvation Camp, site of the Donner party's encampment
Starvation Camp
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

In the end, I was disappointed in the book. I realized that I'd rather read the true story of the Donner Party than any paranormal reimagining. (Rarick's Desperate Passage is on my TBR list so I can find out more about this sad part of the settler age.)

However, if you like history and horror, The Hunger is an addictive read. It's a great book to bring on vacation - just don't read it too late at night.

Buy The Hunger at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently, she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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  1. I enjoy historical horror and can't wait to read this! Thanks for sharing your review.

  2. Awww I am sorry that you were let down. I have read similar things actually, but I am just too interested to not read it? But my expectations ARE lower now I think, so fingers crossed! I am glad that you did enjoy some aspects, at least! Great review!