Top positive review
Tense Historical Fiction
Reviewed in the United States on April 27, 2018
A big thank you to Glasstown Ent. for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction with a paranormal twist. Books like Dan Simmons' The Terror and The Abominable are some of my favorites in the genre, and both have a paranormal threat on top of an already dire situation. When I heard that Katsu was coming out with a book about The Donner Party facing a paranormal entity, I practically squealed in delight. This was a book that I instantly NEEDED.
The Hunger is definitely a slow burn. It takes its time letting the reader understand the hardships and perils of moving by wagon train across the country in 1846. Not only that, but Katsu spends ample time with flashbacks that give each character more of a backstory. It seems like most of the pioneers have a secret, and so for many of them risking their lives on the trail is more appealing than living back east with a past that haunts them. California promises a fresh start, so all of the families in the The Donner wagon train are initially optimistic and in good spirits.
At some point along the trail Donner becomes the leader of the group, and thus his name is forever associated with one of the most chilling stories in American history. As the group continues west, rations start to disappear and tensions mount. Too many of the men feel that they are better suited to lead the party, especially after a boy goes missing while they are camped, and they later find his mutilated body. The group wants to blame the incident on animals or even Indians in the area, but all of them know that the boy's body is mutilated far beyond what any man or animal is capable of, and each person who saw the body starts to entertain thoughts of something more sinister possibly following the wagon train.
I'm not going to spoil anything further, but things continue to get worse for the party, as groups begin to form, rations continue to dwindle, and Donner outright refuses to listen to warnings from pioneers further up the trail who tell him to follow a different route, that they will surely not make it to California if they continue on the path they have chosen. Most people know the real story of the Donner Party, and Katsu uses those details expertly while weaving in a sinister threat that is eventually revealed toward the end of the novel.
I was thoroughly invested in this story and in the characters. The entire time you know the whole party is doomed, and yet you still root for them. You still hope that they will take a different route, or even go back and winter at one of the forts they passed on their journey west. But none of that happened in real life, and so the Donner Party trudges on, while something beyond their wagons watches them. Something that is hungry. Something that will never give up.
This would have been a 5 star read for me if only the end had been different. After such a slow burn, after teasing something so sinister and evil for almost the entire book, I was waiting for an absolute gut punch ending. Sadly, the very end of the book is a bit of a disappointment.
The Hunger is a well written historical fiction/horror novel that had me invested from the very beginning. Even though you know the ultimate outcome from the very first chapter, this is still a book that has you sitting on the edge of your seat.