ARC review: The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean

I received an audio ARC of the Book Eaters, but I didn’t have much time to listen to audiobooks the last two weeks, as I was with family most of the time. So I started this audio a while back now and very slowly. But as the story picked up (and I was back home) I just couldn’t stop listening and actually read most of it over 2-3 days!

The Story

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 Review

First of all thank you to Sunyi and Macmillan Audio for sending me the audiobook ARC in exchange for a fair review.

I wanted to read this book already when it was announced, but I also did not really know quite what to expect. What I got was a complex story of politics and fraught family relationships. I’m finding it hard to arrange my thoughts about this book without giving away spoilers but there were layers to it I didn’t see coming when I first started.

The author has referred to Devon as an unlikeable protagonist (I think? something to that point) and while she is definitely an anti-hero, and a murderer, I could not help but love her. Or at least, root for her success. In a way this is a story about surviving domestic abuse, misogyny and controlling, abusive families and carve a path of your own, and that makes her all too human.

The story’s written with two timelines, the present day alternating with memories of Devon’s childhood and young adulthood leading her to the present, and the contrast between the two is striking and part of what made me want to read more and quicker until I knew how she went from one to the other. And the idea of little girls being fed fairy tales to keep them obedient and pliable while boys could dream of adventures… hurt me a little, if I’m being honest. It’s not so far off from human gender norms as I’d like it to be. I don’t want to go too much into it as I don’t want to spoil important bits, but it ties in very well with the way sexualities other than hetero are represented within the Families, and that rounded out that aspect of the book for me. It’s a thoroughly entertaining thriller of sorts, but it’s also here to say something – subtly, or not so subtly – and does it very well.

At the same time the worldbuilding surrounding the Book Eaters was intricate and layered as well, from their creation myths to how their bodies work to how they survive and work in the human world!

It’s a dark story, and yet not quite horror, to my mind. It’s primarily about survival and making your own way in life, and creating your own family, choosing who you care about. And maybe getting one up on those who abused you. I’m not gonna say it’s light and fluffy, it’s really not. Ironically, it feels more like a dark fairy tale, the ones where the stepsisters get their feet cut off. Ultimately, Devon tries her best to escape the (heteronormative, sexist) expectations that follow princesses, and she identifies more with the monster characters, and the story subverts all these tropes in a way.

A few words about the narrator, Katie Erich: I thought her accent and tone were absolutely perfect for the story, she manages the innocence of child-Devon and the fairy tale quality of some of the earlier chapters, while also nailing the banter and the much darker moments, and I think it’s quite a skill to do both at the same time. She definitely brought the book to life for me and helped get me invested as well.

TWs for the book: Body horror, gore, explicit violence, domestic abuse, violence against children

Note The Book Eaters is currently out in the US, but only comes out on the 18th August in the UK.

Barnes & Noble | Bookshop UK (affiliate link) | Kenny’s | or find the audio on your favourite platform

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