The true story of the Donner party who set out for California in 1846 is well-known across America, but considerably less so worldwide. With tales of fractious relationships and even cannibalism it is an intriguing account of early pioneers underestimating the challenges ahead, one which Alma Katsu dramatises in The Hunger. And she throws in a little supernatural mystery just for good measure.
Establishing that mystery very early, Katsu begins her novel with a search party discovering a macabre scene of butchery at an isolated log cabin, and then travels back in time to tell the story of how those events came to pass. Based on historical fact, this presents no spoiler, and there remains a tangible sense of dread and fear as the party containing families with young children, older pioneers, and paid hands journey into the wilderness as the threat of spending winter on the mountain passes looms. Leadership is questioned and loyalties strained as Katsu cleverly weaves intricate relationship strands within the doomed party.
As one decision made by nominal leader George Donner appears to condemn the group, the party splinters and faces the terrifying reality that it’s not only the elements that are against them.
However you approach The Hunger, you will hasten to the finale in order to seek further knowledge on the real story. It is an amazing one on its own, but Katsu’s introduction of the supernatural adds further depth without drifting into fantasy. There are an abundance of different characters to keep track of, but each has their own distinct personality and motivations that renders this effortless, and while many are darkly flawed, you hope their hope isn’t entirely in vain.
An impressive, immersive, often horrifying novel from beginning to end.
THE HUNGER / AUTHOR: ALMA KATSU / PUBLISHER: G.P. PUTMAN’S SONS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW