Book Review: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (August 2, 2022)
Length: 294 pages
Have I mentioned how much I love books about books? And in my reading travels I thought I had seen a lot of strange and interesting ideas, but The Book Eaters really took me by surprise. In essence, the story revolves around a secret group of people who consume books for food, gaining all kinds of knowledge or experiences depending on the kind of literature they eat. Devon is our protagonist, a member of one of the oldest clans of book eaters who are also slowly dying out because women of their kind are rare. To preserve their line, they have developed a system of arranged marriages where new children can be born, and female book eaters are seen as nothing more than brood mares for this to happen.
But for Devon, things had taken an even darker turn. Her son Cai was born a mind eater, and instead of books he must consume human minds. Unfortunately for the two of them, mind eaters are also considered a threat to their society, forcing Devon go on the run.
It’s a hard life, as it turns out. When the book opens, Cai is a five-year-old with a voracious appetite, and Devon can only do what any loving mother would for her child—protect and provide him with what he needs to survive. As the narrative alternates between the present and flashbacks to Devon’s past, more about the society of book eaters becomes known to us, revealing as well why Devon had to take such drastic measures to keep herself and her son hidden.
There is at once a whimsical but almost horror-like vibe to The Book Eaters, a novel that flits constantly between darkness and wondrous beauty. There is also a surrealness to the world that is difficult to explain. The setting is grounded in a realistic, gothic-inspired version of northern England, but the characters in it are a kind of vampiric race of creatures so clearly there is a great deal of paranormalism present as well. It is this crossover and mashup that made the book so compelling to read, and which made all the ideas within so unique and fascinating to read.
There is also an incredibly rich mythos associated with the book eaters, far more complex than what I can manage to convey here. As you can imagine, the world-building is fantastic as the author brings the story’s history, its lore, and its people to life in ways I did not expect. Character development was deftly executed as well, with Devon being in the center of it all. Glimpses into her past show how she has evolved as a person, from an obedient and subservient princess to a ferocious independent mama bear who is done living for anybody but herself and her son. Of course, it was a rough journey to get to this point, full of pain, suffering and doubt. The story doesn’t hold back on the details either, giving readers a better appreciation of Devon’s transformation and the events of her life that shaped her.
The Book Eaters is no doubt a novel with weight, and in fact, it can get a little too heavy at times, encumbered with all the character relationships, storylines, histories—all coming together to create this massive, twisted web of intrigue. Some parts of the book were a struggle to get through, simply because of how much there was to process. There was also a lot of unpleasantness, some characters whose behaviors and actions were downright distasteful, and in spite of myself, I let my moods be affected. Perhaps this might have been why I found the first half of the book much more engaging than the second half, even though the latter was arguably more dramatic.
Still, I enjoyed the The Book Eaters, which felt closer to a work of art than just a fantasy novel. The themes in this story—of freedom, love, sacrifice, motherhood and so, so much more—were truly touching and introspective. Remember the name Sunyi Dean, who will be a rising star to watch.