“The Book Eaters”
- By Sunyi Dean
- c. 2022, Tor
- $26.99, 304 pages
You’ve consumed a lot of fairy tales in your lifetime.
Princesses on mattresses, princesses with glass slippers, princesses in towers, princesses and frogs, you knew them all before reality set in and you stopped dreaming about any sort of handsome prince. And that’s fine; in the new novel, “The Book Eaters” by Sunyi Dean, you’re absolutely better off without one.
As a child, Devon Fairweather’s days were spent in the Yorkshire moors near her family’s mansion, exploring the woods, and playing with her next-oldest brother, Ramsey. She didn’t worry about school because she was a book eater; nourishment and knowledge both came from pages of literature and nonfiction. She particularly loved the taste of fairy tales.
She’d been a fearless child, secure in the knowledge that princesses like her were rare and never punished as long as they kept quiet, married twice, bore two children, then gracefully withdrew. Devon’s brothers – and there were many – became knights or rulers of their family’s quadrant. Other children – those unfortunate offspring born with a mind eater’s curled proboscis – were whisked away at birth to become dragons because they could not be trusted not to kill.
That was the way it was. Like everything in the Family, it was as it’d always been, just as it was expected that princesses would relinquish their children – forcibly, if necessary.
Devon had lost her firstborn this way, and she vowed that it wouldn’t happen again. So, when her second-born cried with a tell-tale curled tongue and her husband prepared to send the baby to the knights, Devon weighed her options: find someone in the Ravenscar Family to give the boy curing medicine; hunt for him bi-weekly, until he could hunt for himself; or let the family have her son.
Or she could run, as she’d done for three years now, as knights and dragons watched for her constantly and circled her everywhere and her boy was always hungry. As he grew, so did the danger, and there’d be no Happily Ever After …
Princesses, knights, and dragons, oh my! They’re there, plus everything else you want in a dark fable – tattered cities, menacing thickets, evil step-relatives, monsters – all of which makes “The Book Eaters” a fairy tale that definitely isn’t for five-year- olds.
It’s probably not even the kind of book a sensitive soul would want to read before bedtime; the very idea of a world full of thick-browed dragons and exhausted princesses running parallel to ours could either keep you awake or give you nightmares. It wouldn’t help that you’d be happily plagued by multiple I-didn’t-see-that-coming plotlines and a modern-not-modern heroine who fights misogyny, child-snatching, and being someone’s lunch.
And how wonderful is author Sunyi Dean’s prose? Well, on the first page, she shoves readers into a dank apartment above a car repair business, and we can practically smell the rubber of new tires. Indeed, it’s gut-punch storytelling that shouts at the imagination.
No, sorry, this isn’t the Brothers Grimm. It’s much better, dark and tasty. You’ll be obsessed with “The Book Eaters.” You’ll devour it.
More:Bookworm: ‘Our Gen’ – Adult themes and delightful surprises
You love books, right?
Don’t miss “A Career in Books,” written and illustrated by Kate Gavino (Plume, $20.00). It’s a novel about books and friendship and books and publishing books and buying books and owning books and then actually reading them.
More:Bookworm: Seat backs upright, tray tables locked, get ‘Fly Girl.’ Buckle up!
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.