For whatever reason, I’m reading a lot more this year than I did last year. I set last year’s goal at 100 books and only barely got past that at 106; I decided to dial it back a little bit this year and set my goal to 75, and I just finished the 70th book of the year last night, so I’ll finish my yearly reading goal before the year is halfway done.
Given that I’ve been on a book-every-day-or-two pace for most of June, the fact that it’s still notable how fast I devoured — pun intended — Alma Katsu’s The Hunger is pretty impressive. I couldn’t put this book down; it’s nearly 400 pages long and I finished it in less than a day. Even more impressively, The Hunger is a horror novel, and I tend to be kinda rough on horror novels. The scariest book I ever read was a nonfiction book about the Dust Bowl (I am not remotely kidding) and on the rare occasions that I find a horror novel that actually scares me I tend to promote them heavily.
You might imagine, given all of that, that a historical fiction about the Donner Party that tosses some supernatural complications into the story might be right up my alley, and man, you’d be all sorts of right. Don’t get me wrong; I think Katsu probably could have played this book perfectly straight and still written a hell of a novel if she’d wanted to, but taking what was already a nightmare hellscape of a setting and tossing in what isn’t quite a zombie story but is still certainly in the neighborhood ended up creating one hell of an engrossing story. Katsu bounces back and forth between half-a-dozen or so narrators from the caravan (which was, at the beginning, nearly 100 people strong) and from my brief research into the actual events of the time, does a decent job of keeping at least the important parts of her narrative close to what actually happened.
(I mean, monsters. She adds monsters. I’m pretty sure the monsters weren’t there originally. But it’s still decent historical fiction nonetheless, I think.)
So, yeah: this book is about terrible things happening to regular people, and some of the terrible things are kind of their own damn fault but most of them are because frontier-era America was legitimately dangerous as hell, and Katsu keeps the tension so thick for most of the book that you want to wipe it off your fingers when you’re done reading. She’s got a genuine gift for setting a scene and a hell of a talent for just keeping everything creepy; this book isn’t a jump-scare sort of thing, but the type of book that’s gonna worm its way into your head while you’re reading and stay there a while. There’s a good chance of seeing this one on my Best of 2019 list at the end of the year. Check it out.