Hidden across England and Scotland live six old Book Eater families. The last of their lines, they exist on the fringes of society and subsist on a diet of stories and legends. Children are rare and their numbers have dwindled, so when Devon Fairweather’s second child is born a dreaded Mind Eater – a perversion of her own kind, who consumes not stories but the minds and souls of humans – she flees before he can be turned into a weapon for the family… or worse. Living among humans and finding prey for her son, Devon seeks a cure for his hunger. But time is running out – for her family want her back, and with every soul her son consumes he loses a little more of himself…
Thank you to HarperCollins for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Jumping between present day and the childhood of Devon Fairweather, one of the rare daughters of a Book Eater family, this is a haunting story of survival, motherhood, and the pain and joy of love. It opens on Devon’s bleak present, on the run from her family and all other Book Eaters, because her son was born a Mind Eater, consuming the brains – and essences – of people rather than books, and thus seen as good for nothing but brute force, as long as they are controlled by the Knights. To keep her son alive, Devon is forced to lure people to her hiding spots, letting her son strip them of who they are.
It’s a visceral and gripping beginning, and the way that roughly every other chapter then dips back into the past, showing how Devon goes from being a young, naive, and generally happy young girl to where she is now, kept the tension building. It also developed the Book Eaters as a people, who look so similar to humans yet are definitely something otherworldly. They live off of books, which nourish them physically and mentally, yet they cannot themselves write; their women are rare, and can generally only experience two pregnancies before hitting early menopause, and so procreation is carefully monitored by the neutral Knight faction; they do not feel the cold or the heat the way humans do, and can move fast and quietly; they believe they were created by an extraterrestrial being called the Collector, who placed them on earth to gather knowledge and human experience, though he never returned.
I loved the world-building of these supernatural families, and how it is interwoven with our modern world, and I loved Devon Fairweather. Her arc is moving, and shows the conflicts and challenges of motherhood, especially in a world that is set against you and your child’s happiness. Devon spends the first half of her life believing that, if she is simply obedient and does not cause trouble, she will be able to live the life she wants, and the second half realising she was never going to win with the current system. The Book Eaters also has a lot to say about stories, and the way we consume them or let them consume and affect us, which I really appreciated.
My one issue is that the last 20% or so of the book fell flat for me in terms of the plot. It all just fizzled a little, and I lost interest so that, upon finishing it, my general feeling was indifference, as opposed to the excitement I experienced when I first started reading it. It left things a bit sour for me, but I am still glad I picked it up because a lot of the elements of the book and the characters will definitely stick with me for a long time.
Published: 18th August 2022
Genre: fantasy, horror
Narration style: third person, past tense
Format read: paperback proof
Content Warnings: manipulation, abuse, blood, death, rape