Review of The Hunger by Alma Katsu
Title: The Hunger
Author: Alma Katsu
Genres: Horror, Historical Fiction
Published: 2018, G. P. Putnam's Sons
The Hunger dives straight into the horrors surrounding the Donner Party, a wagon train of American settlers that became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and resorted to cannibalism. Follow their slow descent into madness, starting with the hopeful families as they begin their journey West. Katsu delivers drama, mystery, and absolute horror as the wagon train struggles with shifting allegiances, the threat of evil spirits, mistrust, and the general dangers of being stranded in the wilderness. Hunger is brought to life in Katsu's novel as an all-consuming need that rests within every member of the wagon train, whether it be the hunger for power, sex, or food.
Katsu delivers a powerful opening with a prologue that promises a tale of dread. Follow along with The Hunger's switching perspectives and get to know a handful of the Donner Party's members personally. Charles Stanton, a bachelor whose life before the train was wrought with tragedy. There's the enigmatic and beautiful Tamsen, who is believed to be a witch and immediately has eyes for Stanton. Smart, kind Mary Graves who rushes to Stanton's side on multiple occasions. George Donner, the party's namesake, a good man turned around by his own nerves. James Reed, the voice of reason. Then there's Lewis Keseberg, a metaphorical monster given human form. Follow these characters and more as their dark secrets are revealed and the world around them becomes a barren wasteland.
Powerful imagery and interesting historical perspective drives this novel, up until the end. The ending throws in some last-minute secrets and obvious notions that almost unravel the entire novel. The tensions created are left unsatisfied, leaving the reader with a sense of disappointment. The theories as to what drives the cannibalism in the Donner Party are left mostly unresolved, but not in a way that can easily be stomached. While ambiguity works in some stories, this isn't one of them.
This book is well worth the read to study how to build tension and character. However, if you are looking for a satisfying ending, you might want to skip it.