In 1846 a group of American pioneers set out towards a new life in California. They were to be known as the Donner party, and beset by problems, just over half of them made it. Based on this true story, The Hunger adds a supernatural element to explain why they did what they did.

I hadn’t heard about the Donner party before picking up this book but it sounds a fascinating tale of survival even without adding the supernatural which I’m not sure contributed much extra. 87 left Independence, Missouri and only 48 survived; disease, exposure, injury and starvation taking its toll.

I’m not averse to historical fiction that inserts something other to explain things that we hope humans wouldn’t do, but I don’t think this is a good example. When a boy goes missing, he is found butchered and at first they blame the natives. Then some members of the party start worrying they are being followed by a monster, whether human or something else.

The group contains clashing personalities, there’s plenty of blame assigned and infighting. There’s plenty of nasty characters. As more and more things go wrong, they fall further behind schedule, meaning they will not be able to cross the mountains before winter. It would be easy to see why they might turn on one another and the party splits up.

The book dwells quite a bit on certain pioneers’ past, maybe to question why people would leave their lives behind or maybe Alma Katsu just had a lot of research on these people and wanted to insert it. There’s a love triangle set up in order to foster jealousy and then it doesn’t really go anywhere. Tamsen’s referred to as a witch and then there’s not the expected witch hunt to follow.

I do not know whether it was just the bland audiobook narration but I just found it lacking atmosphere. Even a routine crossing across America would be full of risk. Sleeping out so exposed in the wilderness with safety hundreds of miles away should be a scary prospect in itself, especially in the 19th century. The harshness of the winter wasn’t really conveyed and I honestly didn’t care if the characters died.

If you still think you want to read this and know zero about what the Donner party did, stop reading now because I want to talk a little of how it plays out.

The party is well known because they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. In this version of events, there is this whole set up that there is something out there infecting people and making them crave flesh, maybe zombies, maybe a rabies like disease. For the whole book you think this is what they are going to use to explain why they ate people. Yet no, last minute it turns out they just had to start eating human meat because they had no other food, which was the truth. What was the point in the supernatural bit at all?

Listening Notes

Kirsten Potter didn’t suit the book at all. She sounded like she was reading a dry history book but with the occasional odd emphasis and I zoned out repeatedly. Like I’m not sure if they kept to the original deaths or if I missed the passing of an important character. I’ve read the timeline and it seems to have been the one thing kept faithful so, yeah, I don’t think I was engaged with much of it. I’m not in a position to judge what the pioneers would have talked like but she came across as a very modern voice. I’m not sure I’d listen to more narrated by her.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 6. A novel based on a real person

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Book Source: Purchased