Book Review: Hunger
By Alma Katsu
This is a novel about the Donner party, a settling band that met a terrible end on their journey west. This novel suggests a cannibalistic/zombie-like disease is the cause, but most of the story focuses on the distrust, poor planning, and horrendous weather that the settlers had to contend with.
It starts out as one genre (historical fiction) and morphs into another (horror), and that didn’t work for me. While I didn’t hate it, the “zombie” concept flopped in my eyes. I was very much enjoying the settler aspect of the story and the realistic way everything was described, as well as the hints towards all the characters’ issues/backstories. Once the “horror” started, I found I was less engaged. I think I’d prefer the zombies less zombie and more just crazed people.
Yet, I thought the mystery of it was well-done and revealed in an interesting way. Each character had their own secrets, which were revealed in time. This kept you guessing at what their motives were, and whether they were somehow involved in the disappearances/murders/etc.
I very much appreciated the way Katsu handled the women and Native American aspects of the story – I completely understood the way the characters thought/spoke of certain things was due to the time period. Sometimes authors either gloss over the sexism/racism/homophobia of a time period and other don't stress enough that their characters are a product of their time, but Katsu balanced the two with mastery. I enjoyed her writing style - it was fluid and very descriptive. Her dialogue was engaging. The characters, while there was a lot of them, were distinguishable from one another and your opinion of them altered throughout the story. There were some nice love stories to add another level of depth.
Overall, a fascinating and exciting "what if" scenario of a real life event.