Sunyi Dean. The Book Eaters
For me a five star book is something that either I want to read again or something that is so profound it makes an immediate impact. There are lots of ways that books can be compelling: a unique idea, an interesting set of characters, a complex plot, an artistic use of the English language and more. Reading is also a subjective experience, so what appeals to me as a reader may be very different for you. I read a lot for both pleasure and work but these short reviews are a way for me to show my appreciation for the work and the craft of the author of the reviewed work.
The Book Eaters is a work of dark fantasy set in contemporary England. The first time I saw the title and read the synopsis I was intrigued by the idea of a people who ate books instead of food and I was curious to see how this idea played out in the story. The story alternates between the present-day struggle of Devon and her son Cai and the traumatic story that places this mother and son on the run from the families of book eaters. Devon grows up in a world where she is isolated from the rest of the world by her family and grows up on fairy tales of princesses. These carefully curated stories are fed to her (literally since she is a book eater) and form her world and imagination, but she is also curious for the other stories that she is not supposed to read or eat. She begins to see signs that life is not the fairy tales she has been fed as a child, but as an adult she discovers that her role in the families is to be essentially breeding stock and she will be unable to raise the children she bears. Devon is permanently scared when the connection with her daughter is severed suddenly and she is sent to another marriage to bear her second child.
Devon’s second child, Cai, is a mind eater. Among the book eaters there are children born who consume human minds instead of paper and although there is a drug that allows them to consume books instead of minds they are always looked upon as a danger. Most of these children will become ‘dragons’ who are kept by the ‘knights’ in the story but as the time near for Cai to be taken by the knights and Devon to be removed from his life the family who produces the drug to treat the mind eaters disappears. In the present day the story follows Devon and Cai as they attempt to find the Ravenscar family who manufactures this drug which will allow five-year-old Cai to no longer eat human minds. In the meantime Devon must find a human for her son to feed on every two weeks as she attempts to avoid the families and the knights who want her and her son dead.
What makes The Book Eaters a compelling read is the realistic character development of both Devon and Cai who are looked upon as monsters but are bound together by the love of a mother and son. It is a book full of betrayals and broken people, of fairy tales that hide the darker side of reality, of the difficult choices love can cause us to make, and princesses who find a way to save themselves. The isolation of the families reminded me a little of the Ravenwood/Duchennes family in the Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl series Beautiful Creatures although that is set in a Southern U.S. gothic world rather than an English one. A compelling plot which realistically develops a group of characters who are shaped by the curated narratives they have been fed and the trauma inflicted upon them as they attempt to survive in a world that views them as monsters.