The Hunger

The Hunger

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-...

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Title:The Hunger
Author:Alma Katsu
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Hunger Reviews

  • Jilly

    I need therapy after this book.

    Holy crap! Someone show me a puppy video, STAT! I may have nightmares tonight.

    Okay, so the biggest thing that will fuck you up is that you know this book is based upon a true story. Yes, it gets strange and has a paranormal thing that comes in, but you also know that these are real people who ended up eating each other in real life. So, you know how absolutely fucked they were to get to that point. They had been traveling together for months. How desperate were the

    I need therapy after this book.

    Holy crap! Someone show me a puppy video, STAT! I may have nightmares tonight.

    Okay, so the biggest thing that will fuck you up is that you know this book is based upon a true story. Yes, it gets strange and has a paranormal thing that comes in, but you also know that these are real people who ended up eating each other in real life. So, you know how absolutely fucked they were to get to that point. They had been traveling together for months. How desperate were they that cannibalism came into play? How do they look at another human being, whom they knew well, and see meat?

    So, going in, you know this story is going to be disturbing, even if it kept strictly to the facts that we know from history. But, nooooooo, that wasn't disturbing enough. Our beloved author took that fucked-up story from history and just went to town on making it so much darker that you will feel your heart blackening as you go. I seriously need to ride a unicorn or eat a rainbow to recover from this shit.

    Fucking cats. I really needed that shit.

    We follow the Donner Party on their journey and get to know several of the characters up close and personal. Most of them are heading west to run away from their problems. Which I wholly approve of. It's really the only way I will do any running. Running from my problems is my cardio (hey, don't knock it til you've tried it. Yeah, Denial!). The thing to remind yourself is that the Donner Party story doesn't end on a happy note. I mean, how do we even know about these people? When you think "Donner Party", you aren't thinking about a fabulous vacation with food and love stories all around. So..... you know it's gonna suck.

    The story is so well-written that you can feel the desperation and isolation that builds as the story goes on. You feel like you are on this giant death-march but you are the only one who knows the outcome. You want to smack them when they make stupid decisions that you know what they will lead to. It's frustrating, depressing, and horrifying.

    But, just a bunch of people who ended up eating each other wasn't enough. No. There are monsters out there. And, the secrets that I mentioned that many of them were running from? There are monsters in their party. Plus, the suffering, desperation, and isolation? There are monsters being created on the road. All together, a hell of a lot of monsters.

    There are tons of triggers in this story, so only read it if you want to be mind-fucked. I am literally nauseous right now as I smell my husband cooking. So, that's the cannibalism. There is also lots of death, obviously, and the sexual abuse of children. Incest and spousal abuse are indicated too.

    Still, if you can stomach it, you will love/hate this book.

  • Mogsy (MMOGC)

    4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    The tragedy of the Donner Party is retold with a supernatural twist in The Hunger, a dark mix of historical fiction and horror. For context, in the May of 1846 a wagon train led by George Donner and James Reed set out from Independence, Missouri like so many other pioneer families hoping to settle a new life in California. Instead of following the typical route, however, the Donner Party opted to travel the new Hastings Cu

    4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    The tragedy of the Donner Party is retold with a supernatural twist in The Hunger, a dark mix of historical fiction and horror. For context, in the May of 1846 a wagon train led by George Donner and James Reed set out from Independence, Missouri like so many other pioneer families hoping to settle a new life in California. Instead of following the typical route, however, the Donner Party opted to travel the new Hastings Cutoff, encountering poor terrain and other difficulties that slowed them down considerably, until they became trapped in heavy snowfall somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Many of the party died, and some of the survivors allegedly resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.

    Alma Katsu’s re-imagining of this journey—while staying true to many of the real-life people, places, and events—also plays to the mystery surrounding the terrible fate of the Donner Party, injecting a speculative element in the form of supernatural horror. While one could argue that the facts are already horrific enough, the author takes the suffering, terror, and dread even further still in this Oregon Trail story from hell that makes dysentery seem like a cakewalk. The Hunger follows several characters from the group of almost 90 members in the Donner Party, including Tamsen Donner, George’s wife; James Reed, the co-leader of the group; Mary Graves, a young woman from a large family traveling with the wagon train; and Charles Stanton, a bachelor traveling with the party with no relatives. In addition, periodic interludes are provided in the form of letters written by a journalist named Edwin Bryant, who has undertaken his own journey into the wilderness to conduct research on the mystical traditions of the Native American tribes living in the area.

    Many of the other families are mentioned as well, bringing the number of people involved in this book to a staggering figure. The result? Virtually limitless potential for complex character dynamics and fascinating relationships. And indeed, Katsu made sure to take full advantage of this, giving her characters interesting backgrounds full of scandal, controversies, and mischiefs. For many, starting a new life also meant leaving the old one behind along with painful, unwanted memories. Flashbacks are provided for most of the major characters, explaining their reasons for heading west. These backstories also explained many of their motivations, and gradually revealed hidden pasts. After all, secrets don’t last for long in conditions such as these, where travelers lived cheek to jowl within cramped confines, sharing spaces with multiple families.

    As you can imagine, disagreements and bitter rivalries also occurred pretty often, and these clashes only intensified as the Donner Party ran into more problems. In books like The Hunger, the horror aspect usually comes at you at multiple angles. First there is the stifling terror of the unknown, and of course people fear the supernatural because it is impossible to understand. But more frightening still is the underlying darkness of human nature that reveals itself when pushed to extremes. There are two kinds of monsters in this book: the literal kind, but also the kind that good people turn into when they feel trapped or if they or their families are being threatened. Stress, paranoia, and desperation all play a part in this tale, making the horrific aspects feel even deeper, more distressing and malignant.

    From the moment the mutilated body of a missing boy is found at the beginning of the book, I was wrapped up in the story’s suspense. Graphic descriptions and scenes of violence are used to create horror, but as always, I found that the most nerve-wracking aspects came not so much from what’s written on the page, but rather from what we don’t get to see and from what’s implied. The author utilized these effects to great advantage, slowly dropping hints and details here and there, all the while sowing dissent among the party with spiteful rumors, arguments, and jealousies. An atmosphere of suspense was kept up for the most part, though because of all the POV switches and number of flashbacks involved, these tensions were frequently interrupted. However, this was just a minor nitpick, and besides, considering the amount of character development we got out of it, I deemed it to be a worthy trade-off.

    The Hunger would be perfect for fans of dark historical fiction, especially if you are drawn to the period of American history which saw a great number of families leave their homes in the east for the west coast. Alma Katsu does not shy away from the details of hardship and sacrifice while on the trail though, so be prepared for a harsh and unflinching look at life as a pioneer. Readers with a taste for horror will probably enjoy this even more, and those familiar with the bizarre and macabre details of the true Donner Party will no doubt appreciate the author’s attempts to spice up the episode with a supernatural twist. All in all, a standout read.

  • Tammy

    This is a re-imagining of the tragedy of the Donner Party. There is terror and horror contained within these pages. The characters both real and fictious are fully developed with backstories that enhance the tale. You will want to keep the lights bright when reading this one.

  • Carrie

    The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a fictional novel that is centered around one of histories most famous events when it came to settling the western U.S. This story gives a new imaginative supernatural twist to just what may have happened to the Donner party on their trek across the country.

    The book uses the real characters and events from that time to give the story that realistic feel while also adding in it’s own elements to make a whole new version of events. The story starts off letting readers g

    The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a fictional novel that is centered around one of histories most famous events when it came to settling the western U.S. This story gives a new imaginative supernatural twist to just what may have happened to the Donner party on their trek across the country.

    The book uses the real characters and events from that time to give the story that realistic feel while also adding in it’s own elements to make a whole new version of events. The story starts off letting readers get to know the situation and characters just as they may have been back during their trek to the west.

    The point of view will switch between those in the group introducing multiple key characters in the story. There are also several scenarios given as to why such a large group may have been slowed down which was ultimately the downfall of the Donner party when they became trapped by the snowfall.

    I found the beginning of the book very engaging as the author fleshed out the characters and story and could really picture the wagons heading out along their journey. I will admit though it did have it’s slower moments before the supernatural twist really ramped up towards the end though making it drag here and there for me. In the end though I found the book to a nice balance of reality with the fictional twist that made for fascinating reading.

    I received an advance copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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  • Juli

    In April 1846, 90 settlers left Springfield, Ill headed for California. The Donner Party was led by Jacob and George Donner. At first they followed the established route -- The California Trail -- reaching Wyoming without incident. It was at that point that they took the advice of a trail guide, Langsford Hastings, who offered a quicker route. This route proved to be dangerous and nearly impossible to navigate. The Donner Party wasted precious time trying to get through, and arrived at the Sierr

    In April 1846, 90 settlers left Springfield, Ill headed for California. The Donner Party was led by Jacob and George Donner. At first they followed the established route -- The California Trail -- reaching Wyoming without incident. It was at that point that they took the advice of a trail guide, Langsford Hastings, who offered a quicker route. This route proved to be dangerous and nearly impossible to navigate. The Donner Party wasted precious time trying to get through, and arrived at the Sierra Nevada mountains late in the season. While attempting to pass through the mountains, the group was snowed in, running out of food and supplies. Survivors ate the bodies of those who died in order to survive. Only about half of the doomed group lived through winter and arrived in California. This is what history tells us happened to the Donner Party. Alma Katsu paints a much more horrific, terrifying picture of that fated trip. What's worse than cannibalizing dead bodies? The thing that the Indians call Na'it. The Hunger.

    OMG! I loved this book! I am always in favor of creepy horror stories, but when it's a re-telling of a famous (and already creepy in itself) historical event I am even more on board for a good scare. This tale delivered creepiness, outright horror and suspense! As the story unfolds, the horror of the group's situation builds.....not only are they running out of supplies but they are being stalked. Animals disappear. People disappear. Then there's the whispers from the woods at night.....and the strange crazed men that appear, ranting about being hungry. So hungry.

    Awesome storytelling! A nice mix of history with fictional horror. It definitely kept my attention from beginning to end. This is the first book by Alma Katsu that I have read. She also wrote The Taker series. I'm going to read that series because I enjoyed this book so much.

    **I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Putnam via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

  • Debra

    "Maybe it takes one demon to keep the others away." He paused. His eyes glistened with tears now. "Lucifer had been an angel first. I always remember that."

    Is it okay to say that I devoured this book?

    Seriously, I picked this book up after I had read "The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing saga of the Donner party" (It's wonderful and I highly recommend it.) I was worried that I would not like this book as much. I had read some positive reviews of this book and even Stephen King endorsed it,

    "Maybe it takes one demon to keep the others away." He paused. His eyes glistened with tears now. "Lucifer had been an angel first. I always remember that."

    Is it okay to say that I devoured this book?

    Seriously, I picked this book up after I had read "The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing saga of the Donner party" (It's wonderful and I highly recommend it.) I was worried that I would not like this book as much. I had read some positive reviews of this book and even Stephen King endorsed it, so I was very excited to start it. But I was also apprehensive as I often find I am not on the bandwagon with hyped books. Plus, would I hold it up to the high standard of "The Indifferent Stars Above"?

    The first chapter I was worried. It started a little slow for me. But I kept reading and let me tell you this book has some teeth. Okay bad pun. This book drew me in and showed it has legs and can stand on its own merit. This is a re-telling of the Donner party with a supernatural element involved. The Author mixed history with fiction effortlessly. She gave personalities and back stories to the characters and often I wondered about the survivor’s family members would approve. If this book starts slowly for you – keep with it. It sucks you in and there is not going back!

    We all know about the wagon train knows as the Donner party and how they faced tragedy when faced with horrific snow, hunger/starvation, failing mental and physical health. The Author uses some supernatural elements to bring on the creep and bring a little horror to the story. Are they being followed? Is something sinister out there in the dark? Could animals be stalking them? What dangers lies in the dark? What danger lies in the heart of men.

    Making the book even more suspenseful is the belief that one among them is a witch, there are secret relationships, deaths and of course, the hardships of the trail itself. There are a lot of characters in this book, but I had no issues keeping track of them. I also liked that the trail and the landscape itself felt like characters. This book was atmospheric and creepy. There is a feeling of dread throughout this book. Life was hard back then. The trail was hard. Trying to survive on a day to day basis is hard and it makes people hard as well. As the group begins to dwindle in number they begin to wonder, what evil lies in wait for them - is it out there or has it been with them the entire time?

    Hitch up your wagons and load your supplies because you are in for a journey along the eerie and riveting pages of this book!

    See more of my reviews at

  • Jack +Books & Bourbon+

    It’s books like these that make me mad, mad, mad. Not mad because the book was bad or poorly written (it wasn’t), not mad because of the liberties taken by the author (they enhance the story, and are therefore acceptable), and not mad because a favorite character died (this is about the Donner party, people die). No, I’m mad because I didn’t think of this concept first. I mean, come on, a group of settlers/pioneers who get trapped in the mountains and resort to cannibalism? That’s the perfect zo

    It’s books like these that make me mad, mad, mad. Not mad because the book was bad or poorly written (it wasn’t), not mad because of the liberties taken by the author (they enhance the story, and are therefore acceptable), and not mad because a favorite character died (this is about the Donner party, people die). No, I’m mad because I didn’t think of this concept first. I mean, come on, a group of settlers/pioneers who get trapped in the mountains and resort to cannibalism? That’s the perfect zombie setup if I’ve ever heard one.

    I’m trying to put more horror in my book diet, and while there are plenty of choices out there, I’m finding myself more and more drawn to titles that aren't quite mainstream, or with unique concepts. Sure, I like a haunted house story as much as the next guy, but after a while you need something different to cleanse the palate. And

    by Alma Katsu is the perfect palate cleanser. It takes the “historical fiction” concepts of authors like Nathaniel Philbrick, Dan Simmons & Erik Larson, and adds a nice supernatural spin that makes an already tragic story that much more ominous. But let it be known that this is not a fast-paced monster book where there are surprises and cliffhangers around every corner.

    is a more methodical thriller, more patient in its approach, and doesn't just hand the reader everything on a silver platter.

    As a child growing up in California, I was actually already pretty familiar with the history of the Donner-Reed party. I’ve driven up to the very locations where the crossing was most severe in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I’ve been camping in Truckee and seen Donner Lake, and have hiked some of the wilderness where the last part of this story takes place. I am also living in Utah at present, so I know very well the Wasatch mountain range and the salt flats. It’s ironic, as it seems like it takes forever to drive through these locations (generally many hours), and yet that’s in a vehicle travelling at 70 mph on paved roads. I can only imagine how difficult of a crossing it must have been with wagons (dubbed prairie schooners by how the canvas tops resembled the sails of a ship) and packhorses, travelling at maybe 2 miles per hour, having to hope for good grazing areas and being ever conscious of water and food stores. The pioneers of old were far braver and endured more hardships than we as a comfortable society will ever know. Hell, we even have a restaurant here in Ogden called The Prairie Schooner where you sit in small simulated wagons and eat hearty meals while surrounded by mockups of high desert flora & fauna. It’s weird how things have changed for us as a people and a society.

    Like with all my reviews, I will attempt to avoid spoilers whenever possible. To be honest, anyone even remotely familiar with the history of the Donner and Reed families and they tragic trek west will know that most folks didn’t make it, so spoilers here would be kinda non-existent. Regardless, I will do my best to avoid giving away any significant plot points.

    Told partly in third person, and partly in epistolary format,

    truly is a unique book. And while some people may not like the epistolary format, I find that in the context of historical fiction it works quite well. It helps give a book that old-timey feel, and is perfectly at home here. We also get a few flashbacks for some of the characters, which is good, as we generally don’t know much about them when we are first introduced to them. In fact, they’ll make some interesting choices or have strange reactions to a situation, and we only learn later on, through their flashback, why they reacted as they did.

    So while there were a few liberties taken and a few fictional characters added to round out the tale, the folks who populate

    were by-and-large real people. And we get a pretty good selection of them as point of view characters. Charles Stanton, Edwin Bryant, James Reed, Tamsen Donner, Elitha Donner, Mary Graves, and a few others round out the POV roster. I hesitate to say that there’s any one “main” character, as there really isn’t. This trek was a multi-family affair, and the story being told here, fictionalized though it may be, belongs to everyone. So it works that no one person has the lion’s share of the tale. That said, the points of view that we do follow are nice and varied.

    Charles Stanton is a single man seeking to leave a troubled past behind. In a group mostly populated by families, large and multi-generational, a single man is a sort of oddity. But though Stanton might be a slight outcast, he is a capable man with a good head on his shoulders.

    Edwin Bryant is more of a scholar than a frontiersman, and is also travelling alone. But while Stanton is a loner by nature, an outsider by his own design, Edwin Bryant is more accepted within the wagon train, especially due to his limited medical knowledge.

    Tamsen Donner is the much younger wife to George Donner, the “leader” of the pioneers heading west. Beautiful and aloof, many of the pioneers (especially the women) think she is some kind of witch, hoping to ensnare the attention and affection of their men.

    But while Tamsen may appear to be one thing on the outside, she is quite a different person once the layers are peeled back.

    James Reed is a family man and one of the more sensible men within the group, but his timid nature means that nobody really listens to him. He has a past he is also running from, a secret that he has kept hidden from everyone, including his family.

    Elitha Donner is George’s daughter from his previous marriage, and is incredibly sensitive to potentially supernatural events that are transpiring in the book. She's a sweet girl with a caring nature, but everything happening around her is threatening to consume her sanity.

    And Mary Graves is somewhat of a tomboy and is rather outspoken, unafraid to speak her mind and question the decisions of her elders. I always wanted more of her chapters, as she was refreshingly straightforward and generally cut to the chase of any conversation.

    There’s also a few chapters from a few other perspectives, which are also just as entertaining and effective. And though we may think we know all we need to know about a person, there will be a chapter where they up and surprise you. Though they lived in simple times, and maybe lived simple lives, these were no simple people…and years on the trail leaves plenty of time for introspection.

    I also daresay that the harsh and desolate landscape is nearly just as much of a character as the actual people in the book. Harsh, unforgiving, and endless, the path that our settlers/pioneers travel is expertly rendered by Alma Katsu. This book is heavy on atmosphere, with evocative descriptions of the inhospitable landscape and the sheer isolation of the party. This is a somber tale to be sure, though there are few moments of levity thrown in, generally a “head of the nail” observation made by one of the women.

    It must also be said that

    is just plain well written. The vernacular fits the time period, and there are some genuinely beautiful passages. As our intrepid party gets further and further into the unknown reaches of western America, their desperation manifests in interesting ways.

    These are people who have left everything behind them, and on top of an arduous trek across an unforgiving landscape, they have to deal with the growing supernatural threat that is stalking them. Not everyone emerges with their sanity unscathed.

    And speaking of that supernatural threat…Alma Katsu does a great job of taking the “zombie” concept and turning it on its head, making it fit the theme of the story very well. I read somewhere that this is “The Walking Dead” meets a pioneer trek, and I can honestly say that isn’t the case, and slightly misrepresents the book. I suppose the publishers want to put the name of a well-known cultural hit out there to drum up interest in the book, but it’s almost a disservice to

    . For the Walking Dead zombies and the creatures here in this book are nothing alike, and I actually find Alma Katsu’s creations much more dangerous and interesting. If you like your zombies in the traditional Romero vein, you may have a problem with the creatures here. But if you go in with an open mind, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I don’t want to say much more about it, as the joy is in the discovery, so we’ll just say that I’ll never look at spare ribs quite the same way again.

    I was very happy with how the issues of gender and heritage were handled in

    . Neither women nor American Indians were treated particularly well in these times, and Alma Katsu does a good job at showing this, without being insensitive or timid. These were the discriminations of the times, and while they don’t need to be glorified or over-done, they shouldn’t be glossed over either.

    I did have a few issues with the book, where some part of the tale maybe didn’t add up. Charles Stanton seems to know a lot of what happened to Edwin Bryant when goes off on his own, but then later we are told that the letter that Bryant wrote to Stanton was never delivered to him. So if that’s the case…how did Stanton know who Bryant was travelling with and such? It was mostly just little nit-picky things like that.

    I also wanted more horror from

    . While it is deep and dark and unsettling, and doesn’t skimp on the blood or violence, it’s not a particularly scary book. Or maybe I’m just inured to the horror, as it takes a LOT to really get to me. But I daresay that even casual readers will find the book more uncomfortable than truly frightening. Fortunately, Alma Katsu pulls no punches when describing victims the infected. And yes, even some of the aspects of cannibalism are described, though not to excessive levels. That said, some of the more squeamish readers may not want to read about when bone marrow and starving people collide...

    But let’s not have it said that the book isn’t entertaining. It is that, and much more. While I’ve never read anything else by Alma Katsu, I plan to rectify that in the coming months. She’s a damn good author, with a gift for evocative prose and compelling characterization. I was totally hooked by this tale, and absolutely would love to read more of her works.

    Now...who's up for a rare steak or juicy ribs?

  • Sadie Hartmann Mother Horror

    Thank you to Glasstown Ent. for giving the Night Worms a copy of this book to all seven of us for an honest review.

    I'm a native of Northern California. I grew up in a historical mining town. For history lessons in primary school, we read books like, Patty Reed's Doll and played a computer game called Oregon Trail where you and your family had to make your way to California in a covered wagon. I often died before reaching the elusive Sutter's Fort. I had too many supplies in the wagon and my oxen

    Thank you to Glasstown Ent. for giving the Night Worms a copy of this book to all seven of us for an honest review.

    I'm a native of Northern California. I grew up in a historical mining town. For history lessons in primary school, we read books like, Patty Reed's Doll and played a computer game called Oregon Trail where you and your family had to make your way to California in a covered wagon. I often died before reaching the elusive Sutter's Fort. I had too many supplies in the wagon and my oxen would drown while trying to cross the river OR I got dysentery. I typed the message "Pooped to Death" on my gravestone. GAME OVER.

    The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a historical fiction novel based on real events that were *already* horrific in my mind--the stuff the Donner Party endured on their trek through the Sierra Nevada mountains was brutal and tragic, Alma Katsu just turned it up a notch.

    *NO SPOILERS*

    I'm not going to tell you the threat Alma added to the Donner Party events but I'll tell you that I enjoyed it!

    My only complaint would be that Alma never quite went there. I wanted the suspense and tension that she expertly built to ultimately deliver that payload. Don't get me wrong, there is a climax and there are some creepy, gross, scary moments but I could have done with a little more teeth. I wanted some shock value. (maybe because I've read nothing but horror since September?) I do know that I will be reading more from this author. She knows how to spin a good web, I remember telling a friend that this was like a horror soap opera--juicy gossip, tawdry romance, back-biting and scandal all with a backdrop of survival and terror. Lots of good fun! You need it in your horror collection!!

  • Scarlett Readz and Runz....Through Novel Time & Distance

    4.5 Hungy, hungy stars

    The Pioneer wagon train that was DOOMED….and a HUNGER that was lurking within!

    Alma Katsu did an amazing job when combining actual history and blending in fictional elements intrinsically. Researching The Donner/Reed parties that attempted the migration west through uncharted regions of the Sierra Mountains with little choice for survival is a brilliant setting for a fictional novel, and Katsu explored and executed thi

    4.5 Hungy, hungy stars

    The Pioneer wagon train that was DOOMED….and a HUNGER that was lurking within!

    Alma Katsu did an amazing job when combining actual history and blending in fictional elements intrinsically. Researching The Donner/Reed parties that attempted the migration west through uncharted regions of the Sierra Mountains with little choice for survival is a brilliant setting for a fictional novel, and Katsu explored and executed this with perfection.

    The Donner/Reed party, friends, family (including almost half of them children under the age of 18), employees, drivers, cattle, provisions and so forth, left for their journey to California later in the year then other Pioneer wagon trails have. Instead of leaving for their trip in mid-April, they actually did not leave until May 12, 1846.

    Many of the actual persons of the party appear in Katsu’s novel mostly true to what we know about them. George Donner, age 60 at the time, and his wife Tamsen with their children and those from his previous marriage, his younger brother Jacob Donner, age 56, and his family came along. James F. Reed, Irish immigrant, age 45 with his wife Margret, mother and children, made up the other large group traveling. Other families, widows, men and woman joined the party along the way such as Levinah Murphy and her children, the Breen family, Patrick Dolan, Lewis Keseberg and family, the Wolfingers, the Graves family….just to name a few.

    Under great conditions, traveling at 15 miles a day, their journey should have taken them 4-6 months. This is in consideration of rough terrain and inclement weather if they stayed on the Northwestern Route. Once through the mountain pass in Wyoming, by Fort Bridger, the party has the choice now to take a shortcut, the Hastings Cutoff through the Wasatch Mountains in UT and past the southern part of the Great Salt Lake to make it into Nevada. However, provisions are starting to run low and the weather has untimely changed cold early in the season. With a late start to begin with, this is not a great combination.

    Staying very much true to these facts, Katsu starts to develop her characters multi-dimensional along the way. Socio-economic statuses, backgrounds and relationships are explored. Comradery, friendships and foes are established. She sets the mood/tone, when mysterious things start to happen around camp and along the way.

    Katsu’s novel reminds me of

    by Dan Simmons. The unsettling creepiness that ensues from within is unseen, creating demons and monsters lurking all around. Katsu’s craft to create both scenes that describe landscapes most beautifully and intricate, but also evoke a chilling fear and tension of the unseen and unheard is exquisite. Slowly the nights are turning scary, the cold is becoming bitter and among the pioneers or perhaps surrounded by, is a

    that does not stop…..It kills and spreads, tormenting them all.

    As the pioneers start to split in search of better travel routes, the ominous dark that surrounds them continues. Some that venture away from camp don’t return. Some of the families loose loved ones, due to consumption, disease or…..MURDER. A widespread panic is difficult to contain accompanied by the diminished rations and the cold.

    The book commences with most of the pioneers starved or perished, almost like the actual Donner Party. However, no rescue parties are coming for the poor lost souls from

    . The ending is eluding to a most suspicious monster within that strikes and spreads. The reader is given clues in dialogue to interpret

    .

    Relief efforts for the actual survivors of the Donner/Reed party that made it to Truckee Lake were made in three parts with several weeks in between. The treacherous terrain and billowing cold made it an ordeal for any rescue effort. Out of the 80-some people that started the journey, only half survived.

    The whole point of going west was part of the Manifest Destiny. The wish to establish and prosper in California was a dream that many followed. Out of the survivors, Reed was the only one that actually fared well in the California Gold Rush and became prosperous. The Donner children were orphaned. Widowed women remarried and Keseberg grew old and withdrawn.

    ***

    This novel certainly has peaked my interest for more. I was aware of the Donner party and vaguely remember reading about them in the past, but not in detail. Not only do I want to learn more now and get my hands on real sources, but I am also intrigued by Alma Katsu. I believe there have been other writings if not even movies made of this fateful venture, but I am at awe at Katsu’s skills. Her writing holds up with the best.

    I generally love historical fiction almost above all other genres. I read such great reviews about this book that despite my squeamishness towards horror I gave it a try. I honestly have to say, it was not as frightful as I anticipated. I was advised to leave the lights on to read, and to not to be alone etc. But it really wasn’t that bad. The scenes were there, but they weren’t horrific, more of a tension…a flutter in the chest. So, even if you are not a reader of the darker kind of fiction, give this a try. Katsu’s writing is a treat…and she can’t change the fact that cannibalism was involved during the actual journey.

    Enjoy

    Also, thank you to Stephen for the last minute buddy read. I enjoyed your thoughts and our discussions on this novel :)

    More of my reviews here:

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