Wednesday, 1 May 2019

THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read a few reviews of it on book blogs, via Twitter.

In a Nutshell: Fiction taken from fact - pioneers crossing America heading for California, in 1846, slowly realise that a great danger is walking alongside....

I didn't realise until I read the author's notes at the back that this is based on a true story; I wish I had known.

The atmosphere in this book is a such a winner, and the naïveté of the families who set out to travel through uncharted territory, from Illinois to California, is quite pitiful; they fancy they are setting out a great adventure, little understanding the size of America, the range of temperatures and terrains, the dangers they might face when trying to transport their families and entire homes through completely wild lands.

Main characters feature: Stanton, a lone traveller with a troubled past; Bryant, a man fascinated with the Native American culture; Tamsen, a dissatisfied trophy wife; Reed, a pompous former shop owner; Elitha, a young woman who hears voices, the sinister Keseberg, whose back story is flesh-crawlingly gruesome, and there are points of view from various others, too.... fact, there are so many characters that I sometimes forgot who was who, but the main ones were well-drawn enough for them to stand out, and I realised after a while that it wasn't absolutely essential to remember everything about a character, just because he or she had a name.

The party have started out too late in the season, and face many problems on the way, as, against advice, they take a route that is supposed to shave many miles off the journey, which becomes increasingly arduous ... and, waiting in the wings, is another danger.

I did enjoy this book, a lot, though I thought it could have done without the supernatural aspect, which didn't really work for me, and seemed superfluous, turning the book into a genre it needn't have been; the darkness of man himself was enough to add all the terror the story required.  However, this side of it is not too over-played, and I enjoyed it enough to buy a book suggested in the notes at the back - an account of the actual story, which Katsu used in her research: Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick.

I felt that some of the individual stories could have been rounded off more (I was left not knowing exactly who had died and who hadn't, or maybe I just couldn't remember, because the dramatis personae was so extensive), but on the whole the ending was satisfactory - I do most certainly recommend, and look forward to reading the book mentioned above.

(note 7/5/19: Nearly finished Desperate Passage, which I highly recommend.  Had I read it first, though, I don't think I would have enjoyed The Hunger as much as I did; I would have been too irritated by the way Katsu changed the story and characters, and gave so little story space to what was actually the longest and most horrifying part of the journey.  To read The Hunger just as fiction, is probably better.)

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