Fairy tales are such an important part of a young reader’s journey. They provide moral support, share adventures, and also teach valuable lessons. But what happens when those fairy tales are all that you know? What if you’re expecting the knight to come save you only to realize that they are the enemy? What if the person who can rescue you is yourself? Thanks to Tor Books fort the gifted copy of this book.
Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.
Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.
But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.
I finished this book late on Sunday afternoon and as I closed the cover for the final time, I realized that this was such an incredible book with an incredible story. However, I needed time to “digest” (pun intended) my thoughts on this peculiar story before I could share my thoughts with you. It was way different than I imagined it would be, but I enjoyed it regardless. It’s a modern-day fairy tale where the princess saves herself!
This is the story of a young person named Devon. She’s not human. She’s a book eater who comes from a family of book eaters that somehow landed on Earth generations ago and never left. They are slowly going extinct with a lack of females being born, those females who are born can only birth two children before losing their ability to conceive all together, and they are prisoners to their families, bought and sold to different book eaters to perpetuate the species and they’re not allowed to see their children ever again after a few years post-birth.
I think that the world building in this book is cleverly done. While telling the story in alternating timelines (one of Devon’s past and the other of Devon’s present), you really get a feel for the unique world Devon comes from. Their main concern is survival: with the circumstances stacked against them, these book eater people are desperate and in desperation comes severe methods of continuing to survive. Those methods are wrapped into traditions that are passed down from generation to generation.
When it finally dawns on Devon that she would have to let go of her children and when her final child, Cai, is born a mind eater (they have long snake-like tongues that suck out brains instead of devour books), she does everything in her power to escape the cycle of abuse. Right away, I was rooting for Devon and Cai. Even without knowing exactly what happened to her yet, I knew that she had gone through something, fighting something, and I was patiently reading through her past trauma and rooting for her to break free of it. Different than the other book eater women who eat fairy tales of princesses waiting to be saved in big castles, Devon read and ate the stories of heroines who made a place for themselves, had the strength to push beyond their boundaries, and subvert the societal pressures to be unseen. Devon is your modern day heroine who will stop at nothing to protect her children and give them the life they deserve.
The themes of this book also touch on motherhood, conception, mother/child relationships, domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse. While set in the modern day, I couldn’t help but imagine these book eater families stuck in some 19th century time warp where marriages are advantageous and a woman is only as good as whom she births. It was jarring at some points, touching on my own personal triggers and pushing me to read beyond it to see what happens at the end.
I think the only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of in this book is that it became quite repetitive at some points. While I know a lot about the book eater world, it was from the constant reinforcement of some of these ideas. It’s a small detail, but I bring it up in case others don’t like that.
This was an action packed story with a lot of character development and interesting themes. If you’re a fan of fairy tales, fantasy books, or just good modern story focused on a young woman’s love of her children, then I highly recommend this one. I’m now a huge fan of Sunyi Dean and will be looking out for new work from her in the future.