Review: The Book Eaters
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
The Book Eaters, by Sunyi Dean (2022)
Vampires for book lovers! (with zombies too, kind of). I was planning to wait until next year to read this, because my book club picked it for our 2023 line-up... but I couldn't wait!
Devon Fairweather is a Book Eater, just like the rest of her family. The books they eat become knowledge. Her brothers and uncles subsist on books of all topics, but female Book Eaters are restricted to fairy tales and romances with happy endings. Book Eaters look like regular humans, but have "book teeth," which they unsheathe when they have their meals, are stronger and have excellent night vision, and, if injured, they bleed black ink.
The Fairweathers live in a large, secluded mansion in England, and mostly stick to themselves - except to ferry the Book Eater women back and forth to the other 5 Book Eater Families in order to breed. Book Eater women are few and far between, and each can only have 2 children, so baby-making has to be carefully organized and regulated to ensure the survival of the race. The overseers of this process are called Knights - Book Eater men charged with protecting the lineage, and keeping the "dragons" in line.
Dragons?! Indeed! Every once in a while a Book Eater is born different. They have no book teeth, and hunger only for human brains. They can be controlled with the use of Redemption, a medicine designed to help them eat books - a recipe held in secret by one of the 6 Book Eater Families - though their hunger for brains never entirely goes away. The Knights keep these "dragons" like caged animals, using Redemption (and physical restraints) to help maintain order with the Families.
When Devon is married off and produces a mind-eater "dragon" son, Cai, she is determined to keep him from this fate. Devon and Cai go on the run, in search of the reclusive Ravenscar family, makers of Redemption. But living in the "real world" means figuring out how to deal with humans, and, even more challenging (and upsetting), hunting down humans for her son to feed on so he doesn't die of starvation.
The book is an urban fantasy, meaning it's set in the present day modern world, but with a magical overlay. The immersive atmosphere is gothic and dark, and the Families' antiquated customs and beliefs make it feel like it's set in Victorian times. It's like reading one of the Grimm's brothers original unsettling and a little disturbing fairy tales.
I loved it!
And in case you like the sound of this, but want a version that is appropriate for little kids - oh boy, are you in luck! Oliver Jeffers' The Incredible Book Eating Boy is about a young boy who eats books, and the more he eats the smarter he gets... til he starts to feel sick because all the words are getting too jumbled inside him, and he has to start reading them instead. Ok, so it's not a one-to-one comparison, but it IS a really great book, with awesome illustrations (like all of Jeffers' books).
UP NEXT: Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz