Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

In the spring of 1846, a wagon train of over 80 people set off from Missouri on their way to California. They deviated from the well known Oregon Trail, opting to take the Hastings Cutoff, a newly touted shorter route west. Unfortunately, the route was untested and the weather took a turn for the worst. That, combined with even more bad luck, left the travelers stranded, snowed in and starving.

This was, of course, the ill-fated Donner Party. And the subject Alma Katsu tackled in The Hunger. But, Katsu adds a supernatural twist to the story, beginning with Donner's wife, Tamsen, whose talents with herbs and plants are a little more than the average medicinal knowledge.

Tamsen feels a darkness hovering over their traveling party. Something that she tries to ward off and protect her children from. It's a darkness the travelers encounter multiple times along the way, though not all of them recognize it for what it is.

Peppered throughout the narrative are varying points of view, including a traveler who takes his leave of the party to observe the local native tribes. It's through these viewpoints we finally get a full picture of the trouble that plagues the party.

The Hunger reminded me of the 1999 movie Ravenous. Any story about cannibalism in a historical setting kind of has to, right? Especially when you're dealing with horror of this variety. And I have to say, Katsu's story is a really good one. Her twist on the well-known story works smoothly and organically. And the focus isn't too heavy on the supernatural aspects. She gives voice to the characters, the people of the party, fictionalized as they are, in such a way that they are humanized and sympathetic. Which, considering they are real people who experienced something truly, truly tragic, was welcome.

(Tomorrow, I'm reviewing the new Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child release, which is also a Donner retelling!)

Katsu takes on another historical tragedy in her next book, The Deep, a retelling of the Titanic. I have a couple of those in my TBR too, so look to some paired reviews to come!


Tammy Sparks said...

I loved this too! I think Alma's stories are so well rounded, and she really knows how to build tension.

Dianna said...

I like books that make history feel real.