The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
To reference the title, it took a few days to absorb this novel and fully appreciate the plot, the characters, the life and death challenges they faced in this alternative present day United Kingdom. A dark horror fantasy by a first time published author, it reads like a seasoned story teller’s re-imagining of her home country.
Set in the present day (with regular segues back into the main character’s history) it introduces the reader to Six Families each living in near isolation from each other and homo sapiens. Spread across England and Scotland, the Families consist of a genetic mutation into Book Eaters (leather bound old paper tomes the most consumed, modern laminated magazines require ketchup). Female book eaters can only bear two living children each, making them a cherished marketable commodity. Female babies are welcomed and treasured, male babies are accepted but neither gender if born a Mind Eater.
The story centres around Devon, a 23 year old who has given birth (arranged marriage contracts between Families) to a daughter and now a son. Whilst her eight year old daughter is a Book Eater and will remain with her paternal father, Devon goes on the run with her three year old son, a Mind Eater. Mind Eaters can consume anyone, homo sapiens as well as Book Eaters, and are to be hunted down and killed as required. There is a pill called Redemption, manufactured and controlled by one Family only; a steady supply of this drug is the treasure Devon seeks to save her son and manage his Hunger.
This fictional story is in turn horrifying, moving, ageless set within an old-fashioned patriarchal culture. The modern day reader rails against the Families’ inflexible rules (allying the reader with Devon from the first page).
Absorbing from first sentence to last, the author has said she is working on two more books to complete the trilogy. This reader welcomes the news as there are other dominant characters who deserve their own back stories explored.