Saturday, 27 January 2018

Review of The Hunger by Alma Katsu - Historical with a hint of horror

Oooh this book ticked all my boxes and I'm excited to read that movie rights are already in place, it will make a wonderful film if its done right.

But me, I prefer to read the book first and this one didn't disappoint one bit, and isn't the cover beautiful?

I must confess I am not overly familiar with the notorious true story of the hapless pioneering family known as the Donner party who set out along the California trail to Wyoming in a wagon trail and became beset by ill fortune and disaster although when I picked up the Hunger I realized that in the past I have read a very different account of this famous event which is very well documented.

The Hunger is very much a work of fiction, though closely woven around a hard core of fact and many characters in the book and things which happened are very real. It is historical fiction with a creepy and insidious taint of horror.

A large mismatched group of families set off together with their belongings and wagons, to travel across The Wild West of America in the days when it truly was the WILD West. This alone is a brave and possibly foolhardy thing to do. Following misjudgements and mishaps this party become delayed, and winter is approaching, fast.

They reach a divergence of two trails, the main one which is well trodden, used by many before them, a proper trail which is marked and has the odd supply post scattered along it. The second one of which little is knows except the lack of information and waymarks yet is talked about, the rumours say it is hard, it is wilder than wild and it crosses paths with native tribes who are rumoured to be unfriendly, but it is also rumoured to be much shorter, more direct and the decision to take this path, made by self appointed leader George Donner, is just one of many mistakes he will come to regret.

As the party fractures, some stay to the original planned route despite approaching winter meaning they just may not reach their destination before the harsh winter weather arrives. The rest go forth into the unknown with a leader who is neither fully respected nor as wise as one would hope, a recipe for disaster surely before they even set off.

What happens in this account is horrific and terrifying and although it is a work which is part horror part fantasy, it is actually incredibly believable and not too far from the truth to make you think Oooer. Its deeply immersive and awe inspiring and so damn chilly and creepy it scared my pants off!

I love historical fiction, based loosely on real events and filled with ordinary everyday folk, who might have had my ancestors amongst them, though I do fervently hope nobody in my bloodline was subjected to the tragedies in these pages.

What is put across extremely well and made me wrapt in this story is the massive risk and bravery these pioneering families took upon themselves in a time when adrenaline sports and adventure travel was unheard of.

Husbands who have spent all their lives working the land on a farmstead together with wives whose skills lie in jam making and child rearing and whose most adventurous occasion so far has been a family birthday party or a new preacher arriving at the local church, pack up their hard earned and impractical belongings into a wagon, sit their kids on top, herd their livestock, tighten their shawls and set off to basically walk 2,500 miles across the most inhospitable and harsh terrain imaginable!

It makes your mind boggle! And these are suspicious and often ill educated folk who find it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, myth and legend from historical fact. Being away from familiar surroundings and unsure of where they will end up is enough to totally stress the most laid back person, so it's not surprising when mistrust and violence begins to erupt, but it doesn't quite stop there. But something darker and more sinister has them in their sights and as missing children, death and murder become rife, just where will it all end?

This is an imaginative and innovative take on historical fiction with a difference. I loved it and hope you do too.

The Blurb

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of the Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

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