History tells us that the Donner Party was a group of American pioneers who set out in the late 1840s to reach California, a journey that should have taken no longer than six months, only to be met with a series of mishaps and pitfalls — with many turning to cannibalism as a way to survive.
But in The Hunger, Alma Katsu tells a different story. . . one with a supernatural twist that paints an entirely new picture.
Katsu opens with a prologue. In early 1847, a team desperately searched for Lewis Keseberg in hopes of rescuing the lone survivor of the hellish expedition. What they find instead is something truly horrific, and the story goes back to June of 1846, when George Donner first began leading the wagon train west, to tell things from the very beginning.
Not far into their journey, Donner and his family find hundreds of letters kept under rocks. Upon reading them, they find each letter warning those traveling west to turn around before it’s too late. Warnings of danger are displayed about, but the group decides to press on anyway. Multiple families, men, women, and children all hope for a better life out west, and prepare themselves for the rough voyage ahead. Sadly, things take a tragic turn, as people start to go missing, thinning the group one by one.
Katsu adds suspense by delving into her characters’ backgrounds. It turns out that some individuals are fleeing west to escape sins from back east. As these revelations come to light, group members obviously suspect them to be behind the evilness stalking them as they travel through deserts and over mountains. But the real panic sets in when missing bodies start turning up, their corpses mutilated and cleaned of flesh.
Anyone who knows even minor details about the Donner Party’s real story likely knows how things end. The surprises then, revolve around why things go so wrong, and who. . . or what. . . is behind it all.
Alma Katsu mixes horror and supernatural elements into this historical fiction thriller that packs a gruesome, violent punch. The writing is good, and the story, because it reimagines the historic event as a whole, is unique. That said, once the main twists reveal themselves, the story becomes pretty linear, and most readers will predict the ending. It’s still an enjoyable read if you’re looking for a terrifying take on a dark part of American history.
Author: Alma Katsu
Pages: 384 (Hardcover)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.