Though I love reading history, I’ve only occasionally dipped my toe in the realm of historical fiction. I’ve got nothing against the genre. I’m just quicker to pick up a nonfiction book delving into the topic than a fictionalized one.
But The Hunger by Alma Katsu, proved to be quite the treat.
I find the story of the Donner Party fascinating. The Donner Party is the true frontier horror story of a family caravan, hope set on starting anew in California, finding themselves trapped in the wilderness and the terrible winter of 1846-1847. As their supplies dwindle, people start dying of hunger and quickly turn against each other for survival. In the end, they’re forced to cannibalize members of their own party.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. The human eating is a bit overblown in the collective imagination of this history compared to the true horror of being in a situation that you can’t escape. The animal in us lashes out when found in that corner. If you want to learn more, one book I highly recommend is The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis. It’s a near 500 book tome but the history is woven into a rich narrative that’s worth all the paper.
It’s interesting exploring how Manifest Destiny gets corrupted by greed and how the hope turns in on itself.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu explores these things and more. She takes a few liberties with the historical account but her choices breathes life into these characters. Each character is escaping from something. Whether that be a certain situation or a dark secret. They pin their hopes on California to do away with their sins but they quickly realize there’s no escaping them.
There’s also a thrilling supernatural bent to the narrative. I won’t spoil too much but let’s just say there be monsters. I think the most compelling thing I found was how people are so quick to turn on each other and how strife ends being the main reason why most of the cast dies off.
This was a brilliant horror story, dripping in dread.
Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.
Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.
While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”