“Maybe that was the curse of these mountains — they turned you mad, then reflected your own madness back at you, incarnate.”
Growing up in Reno, Nevada, I travelled across Donner Pass countless times as a kid. The one drive across that I still remember to this day, was when my mom told me about The Donner Party. A strange and chilling piece of history that stuck with me for it’s enormous scope of tragedy combined with it’s campfire horror reality. Perhaps because we lived near it, a piece of history that we could visit. Whatever the reason, it’s always been a story that stuck with me.
The Hunger takes that tragic journey and adds a supernatural twist.
We begin this excursion West meeting Charles Stanton, one of the few single men in the train heading West to stake a new life. A young boy has gone missing, delaying their journey while he is searched for. Through his eyes we get the first impression of the wagon train, including George and Tamsen Donner, among other important characters. This delay may seem minor, but sets the tone of things to come.
“Foolishness and pleasure, that was what the members of the wagon train wanted.”
Through each perspective, we get the sense of unease building with every mile they travel. A sense of hostility, questioning leadership, and even blaming each other for the bad luck that seemed to follow them. We also get glimpses of what it is that could be following them.
One of my favorite things are the flashbacks for the major characters. Usually the heads of each family that the wagon train was composed of. We get a sense of their lives before the wagon train, and the circumstances that unfolded leading them to decide to travel West. The desire to start over, to build a life in California is a good reason. But, it also seems that most of our travelers need to leave pieces of their old lives behind them. They aren’t as much running towards a future, as they are from their past.
“But looking back, he knew, was a trap. They’d come this far. There would be no going back, not now, not ever.”
The first thing you should know about this book is that Katsu does a phenomenal job blending fact with fiction. Many of the characters in The Hunger are people who lived and died in this infamous trek across America. Major set backs, fights between characters, tensions and rumors, these are also, for the most part, historically accurate. Not all, it is fiction after all, but enough to be thorough and impressive.
This is a horror book, but it isn’t the kind of horror that reaches out to shock you. It’s more insidious than that. A terror rooted in not just reality or history, but in the heart of human nature. It’s a horror that burrows deep and strikes when you least expect it because it’s believable. It feels like it could happen. Like maybe it did happen. This is the kind of horror that keeps you awake at night as you face the certainty that evil exists, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“In this, at least, his grandfather had been correct. Evil was invisible, and it was everywhere.”
Knowing quite a bit about the Donner Party, my one wish is that Katsu pushed the level of horror further. We get quite a bit of buildup, but the part that is the most terrifying is at the end and not as gut-punching as I was hoping. Katsu nails the creepiness and dread each person in this ill-fated journey must have felt. Even more so with some strange presence following them. But if I had one critique, it would be that I wanted more. I would have loved more in the frozen mountains, showing how harrowing and horrifying things both were and could have been.
That said, I devoured this book. I couldn’t put it down. And I found myself going to Wikipedia afterwards to relive the facts. It’s been a few weeks since I finished and still this book lingers. It definitely sank it’s teeth in me. If you love horror, and especially love diving into the darker side of history and humanity, this book is well worth the journey.
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The Hunger was published March 6. Check out more reviews on GOODREADS, along with links to all your favorite retailers!