Updated: Mar 30, 2020
There are a select few bookworm friends of mine that I trust with book recommendations. One of those is my friend, Shelby @seeshelbyread. Her and I met through our love of books and I swear we have almost identical taste. I saw her glowing review of The Hunger by Alma Katsu and knew it would be one I would enjoy. This disturbing mix of historical fiction and supernatural thriller is dark, strange, and hard to put down. It is the story of the Donner party, who made their way west and fell under numerous hardships along the way. What makes The Hunger different is it is a fiction account of their journey, sprinkled with creepy, supernatural events.
The story of the Donner party is fascinating, in and of itself. Traveling west from Missouri, in hopes for a better life in California, and after a series of mishaps, the wagon party comes to a point where the path diverges. One route is well traveled and documented, the other is unknown, but heard to be quicker. The leader, George Donner, makes the decision to take the "faster" route and from there, the party quickly dissolves. The group faces treacherous snow storms, runs out of food, dwindles their barely living livestock, and slowly begin to drive to the brink of madness. People begin displaying strange symptoms, acting manic, and almost animal like. Children disappear in the woods and their dismembered, bloody bodies are found farther down the trail. There appears to be something in the woods; watching, following, hunting. George Donner's wife, Tamsen, dabbles in the supernatural and notices these creatures lurking in the woods, but by the time anyone listens to her, it is far too late. They act like wolves, but look like men. What are they and what do they want?
This book is a wild mix of historical fiction and supernatural thriller, based on a true story. The combination is unexpected, but with this piece of American history, it worked quite well. Some of the characters are made up to fit the fiction story, but others are based on real people who went through this horrific ordeal. A major premise of the story is cannibalism. The real party members resorted to cannibalism to survive, eating the bodies of people who passed away due to the weather elements and starvation. The Hunger uses this disturbing concept and builds off of it in a creepy and almost mystical way. There are creatures following the party who seems to be hunting them, waiting for them to trip, so they can attack. If someone is attacked by one of these creatures, they become sick and become one of them. The party begins to fall into madness and turn on each other, some succumbing to the illness, while others are the prey.
Alma Katsu does a wonderful job of preserving the integrity of the true story, but giving it a unique flare. This book is creepy, disturbing, dark, and will keep you up at night. The writing is rich, descriptive, and atmospheric; the characters well developed and unique. The ending gave me chills and stuck with me for awhile. I gave The Hunger by Alma Katsu ★★★★.5 and recommend it if you are a fan of the thriller and horror genres. If you are not a fan, this book might not be the one for you. It is dark and is not a one size fits all.