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The Hunger

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Horror (2018)
After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

382 pages, Hardcover

First published March 6, 2018

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About the author

Alma Katsu

27 books2,809 followers
"Hard to put down. Not recommended reading after dark." -- Stephen King

"Makes the supernatural seem possible" -- Publishers Weekly

THE HUNGER: NPR 100 Favorite Horror Stories

THE HUNGER: Nominated for the Stoker and Locus awards

Author of THE DEEP, a reimagining of the sinking of the Titanic, and THE HUNGER, a reimagining of the Donner Party's tragic journey (Putnam);
THE TAKER, THE RECKONING and THE DESCENT (Gallery Books). The Taker was selected by ALA/Booklist as one of the top ten debut novels of 2011.

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5 stars
4,533 (18%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,703 reviews
Profile Image for Debra .
2,287 reviews35k followers
February 4, 2021
"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 www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,826 followers
September 20, 2019
A book that I was not very excited about throughout does not get me all that excited to write a review. To that end, it is time for another official Bullet Point Review! (Disclaimer: All opinions my own . . . I am glad some of you enjoyed the book and did not feel this way!)

- It’s over!
- Some interesting historical fiction (I guess . . .)

- Not really all that scary or terrifying
- Random time jumping, and not in a useful way
- I was daydreaming throughout – never a good sign!
- Silly plot development
- Found myself not caring a whole lot (see: daydreaming)
- Often wondered what the heck is actually going on (see: daydreaming)


There was a lot of potential here. I recently read Old Bones, which is another Donner Party based fiction story, and I loved it. I saw lots of my friends recently or currently reading this so I hoped the hype was real.

Unfortunately, another hype that did not pan out and failure to use a real (and terrifying) historical event in an engaging way. As mentioned above, I hope everyone enjoys it, but it is a big nope for me!

Wait . . . what did I just type??? I was daydreaming again because I lost even more interest in reviewing this book while I was reviewing it!
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,537 reviews9,795 followers
May 31, 2023
Okay. Alright, Alma Katsu, I see you and I like what I see.

Reimagining the true events of the infamous Donner Party, Katsu brings a haunting atmosphere to this slow burning, Historical Horror novel.

I must say, the atmosphere had me. I was hooked.

It was like watching a movie that is dark for a large portion of the time. It leaves you squinting, trying to figure out what is coming next.

After a series of unfortunate events, rations for the traveling party become depleted, the weather gets progressively worse and tempers begin to flare.

Looking for someone to blame, whispers begin to circulate that a witch may be among them.

Tamsen Donner is used to being blamed for things going wrong. It certainly doesn't stop her from living her life how she sees fit; she's a pro at ignoring other's opinions.

Going into this, you know this party is doomed, but what will the ending bring?

I thought this was interesting, if a little slow. I wasn't blown away by anything, but it was a good story. I am happy to have crossed it off my TBR list.

Personally, I could have done with a bit more of the horror elements, but it was fine.

My biggest take away: Regardless of what was lurking in the mountains, the biggest threat came from within the traveling party itself.

Proving once again, man is the most dangerous monster of all.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,027 reviews58.9k followers
April 13, 2019
The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a 2018 G.P Putnam’s Sons publication.

Deeply engrossing!

The Donner Party is an epic tragedy that has been explored and analyzed for ages. It’s a gruesome and ghastly tale all on its own. But now, Alma Katsu has added a paranormal tint to the story which only adds yet another horrifying possibility into the mix.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. It has been categorized as a horror novel and since it is centered around the Donner party, it certainly should fall within that genre. However, this is not your typical novel of horror by any means.

Bad luck plagued the Donner party from the start. The wagon train was filled with those hoping for a better future and those who were running away from problems, and those trying to make trouble.
Yet, in this re-imagining- the Donner Party was pursued by something worse than the winter storm of the century. Yes, food is running out, but the survivors are suffering from a different kind of hunger…

This is an ambitious novel, which features both real life characters-The Breen family, William Eddy, and The Donner’s, of course- and fictional ones, pitting them against the unusually harsh realities of a plan gone horribly awry as they make desperate choices just to survive, but also putting them into a supernatural element, offering an alternative theory about what may have been beleaguering the travelers.

The author did a fantastic job with describing the scenery, and an ever better one with the character analysis. This story grabbed me right away and kept me glued to the pages from start to finish. It is atmospheric, and truly creepy, but I did feel lost on a few occasions wondering about the various conjectures implied. While the reader is focused on the puzzling ‘hunger’ that is quickly spreading, the true evil may the one lurking in the hearts of humanity and the sinister motives behind their actions.

I was drawn more towards the characters and the horrible circumstances they found themselves in that the folklore and history of the ‘Hunger’. I did find the trail to the ‘carrier’ of the strange affliction to be quite interesting, although I still felt as though I was missing a key element, leaving me to draw my own conclusions.

Overall, this is solid chiller, made all the more absorbing due to its basis in factual events. This is one you might want to read in the light of day- for to attempt it in the dark of night, may have consequences!

3.5 stars
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
November 8, 2018
oooh, goodreads choice awards semifinalist for best horror 2018! what will happen?

when history’s not bad enough, add monsters!

writers adhering to this philosophy can either turn that historical atrocity frown upside down and play it for laughs by making zombies stagger across the deck of the titanic, OR use it to exculpate humanity by redirecting blame; identifying a villain that is not (or no longer, in the case of the undead) bound by human expectations of civilized behavior - 'oh, hitler was a vampire, no wonder he so bad!' OR the supernatural can be used to enhance the horrifically real - gently drizzling the past’s bad times with a monstery glaze.

The Hunger is an example of this third approach. nothing about this story has been lightened by its transition into the monster mash-up genre, and while some of the unneighborly impulses can be attributed to dark inhuman forces, there’s plenty of ordinary shitty behavior that’s as human as it gets.

as you probably already know, this book is about the donner party, a manifest-destiny sitch gone wrong and one of the main reasons there are so many mcdonald’s studding the lengths of america’s highways. travel-hanger = danger.

like The Terror, which is another example of this brand of historical ripped-from-the-headlines horror whose gaps are filled with monsters, both nature and the ancient-unnatural contribute to a tragedy played out in a desolate landscape where it's desperately cold, people eat people, and the snow keeps its secrets.

also similar to The Terror is the fact that, for a suspiciously long time, this reads more like historical fiction than horror, to the extent that i thought i had misunderstood something along the path of me-wanting-this-book. don’t get me wrong, i was enjoying it, but it was a slow-paced, well-researched historical whose events were plenty harrowing without any monsters, and once the spooooooky element did slink into the story, it wasn’t to provide additional horrors, it was just offered as an explanation for why the real horrors occurred.

not that an explanation was needed - i mean, this was a situation already pretty much bound to fail - the proto-reality show about the explosive potential when strangers from different backgrounds, religions, and financial means were thrown together, responsible for themselves and their families, but also dependent upon each other for survival over an unpredictable, under-explored terrain where one misstep could lead to disaster, where a few ounces of cargo could be all that stood between survival and destruction. the dilemma of protecting one’s own vs. the good of the group - whether you could afford to help out a less fortunate family when the unexpected arose, if doing so might cause your own family to suffer, mistrust, travel-fatigue, paranoia, the temptation of other men’s wives and daughters (whether these opportunities were being offered or not), cold and mud and wind and rain and boredom and the smell of oxen and unwashed human and children crying and jesus is it any wonder people started eating their fellow-travelers when provisions ran low miles from anything except snow and … more snow? i feel half-mad just typing all that out and it might not even take anything as extreme as watching someone i love starve to death before i started seeing everyone around me as a walking buffet.

as a historical, it’s grand - the backstories of those involved are amply fleshed out; fattened for the slaughter & all the better to eat you, my dear. it explores why people decided to take the journey despite the risks - what they were running from, what they hoped to find, what their alternatives to attempting the crossing were, and although i’m not convinced this story needed an extra push into the eerie to explain why it all went so horribly wrong, the mythologized bits are woven pretty tightly into the real facts and it’s well-blended, without seeming shoehorned in or silly, which is no small feat.

the epilogue was a bit disappointing - after such a long and languid book, it’s kind of a confusing blurry rush of a ta-daaa, but other than that, high marks from me.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Matt.
918 reviews28.3k followers
October 16, 2022
“The wagon train had already suffered misfortune after misfortune: signs, all of them, if you knew how to interpret them. Just last week, [Tamsen Donner] opened a barrel of flour to find it infested with weevils. It had to be thrown out, of course, an expensive loss. The following night, a woman – Philippine Keseberg, young wife to one of the less savory men on the wagon train – had delivered stillborn. Tamsen grimaced, remembering how the darkness of the prairie seemed to enfold the woman’s wailing, trapping it in the air around them. Then there were wolves following them; one family lost its entire supply of dried meat, and the wolves even carried off a squealing newborn calf. And now, a boy was missing…”
- Alma Katsu, The Hunger

Alma Katsu’s The Hunger belongs to a very specific, very cool literary genre: the horror/historical fiction mashup. In this hybrid species of novel, you start with a real-life, often deadly event, and then you add supernatural elements. Done right – as in Dan Simmons’s The Terror – you can end up with something very satisfying, a book that is both ridiculous and plausible.

To succeed in this category, you have to do three things right. First, you need an appropriate setup, a historical event with just enough gaps in the record to allow for the seamless addition of monsters, witches, or ghosts. Second, the history has to be solid. The nonfiction is the foundation, and if it’s rotten, nothing else will hold. Finally, you need to get the scares right. This is rather obvious, and obviously rather hard.

In The Hunger, Katsu nails the first two elements, but fumbles the third, leaving this a title that matches my elementary school math skills: meets expectations. This is fine, of course, but I wanted much more.


With regard to the first element I mentioned, the premise for The Hunger is absolutely first-rate. Katsu follows the westward passage of the doomed Donner Party, famed for getting snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-47, after a series of delays and misadventures on the trail. With food running low, the trapped emigrants assured themselves a footnote in history by resorting to cannibalism.

This is a perfect springboard for Katsu, because most of the fear is extant, and does not have to be dreamt-up. There is the cold, the snow, the isolation, the wild animals, the gnawing hunger, and the intergroup friction that caused a splintering into factions, including an incident of manslaughter. A weaker man – unable to resist a bad pun – might say that all the ingredients for a satisfying meal were already present. Katsu’s stroke of minor-genius was in recognizing this fact.

I only read horror during the spooky season, so I’m typically rather selective. Usually, I find myself turning to Stephen King’s back-catalogue. But when I stumbled across a book promising to take the already-extreme saga of the Donners to the next level, I snapped it up.


As to the historical grounding, I was also pleasantly surprised. I’ve read a lot on America’s westward expansion in general, and on the Donner Party in particular (I recommend Michael Wallis’s The Best Land Under Heaven), and Katsu gets the details right. More than that, she bakes them into the story, rather than layering them on top. The politics of a wagon train, the charlatanry of Lansford Hastings (whose “cutoff” caused the disaster), and the local landmarks and geography are all accurate.

The problem – at least for me – is in Katsu’s execution of the frights.


It all begins with the characters, to wit: there are too many.

Whatever else I say about The Hunger, Katsu cannot be accused of a lack of effort. She really tries to bring the members of the Donner Party to life, struggling to evoke a cross-section of men and women with varying backstories, some of them presented through flashbacks.

To that end, she tells parts of her tale from the perspectives of Tamsen Donner, who might be a witch; George Reed, a wealthy man with a huge wagon and a bigger secret; bachelor Charles Stanton, fleeing a tragic romance with a secret of his own; former newspaperman Edwin Bryant, who spends most of these proceedings away from the others; young Mary Graves, who is falling in love with Stanton because the plot demands a love story; and Lewis Keseberg, an ill-tempered and violent jerk who also – naturally – has a secret.

The sheer number of speaking roles, combined with The Hunger’s relative brevity (less than 400 pages), means that most of these people – despite Katsu’s exertions – are nothing more than names, with one or two boldly underlined traits.

The upshot is that I didn’t feel invested in anyone. Sure, I was interested in what happened – though most of their fates are preordained – but mostly on a technical level. I read through to the end because I wanted to see how the storytelling mechanics functioned, not because I actually cared about Tamsen, George, Charles, Mary, or anyone else.

Horror doesn’t really satisfy if the stakes aren’t real. Here, the stakes seemed low, because no one resembled a fully-formed human.


Beyond that, the pacing of The Hunger is as bad as the Donner Party’s. Not just bad, but curious. For two-thirds of its length, Katsu is slow and deliberate, raising the tension bit by bit with odd occurrences, dire portents, and scattered clues. All of this should have culminated in the snowbound winter, where cold and hunger could have been joined by Katsu’s evil menace.

Instead, the climax is both rushed and confused, packing weeks of suffering into a few sentences and expositional exchanges of dialogue. This blunts the impact of the blow, rendering the laborious buildup a wasted exercise. I have no idea why this happened, yet I feel like it was an editorial choice, not an authorial one. That is, it seems that Katsu was given strict page limits that forced her to drastically curtail the endgame.

The conclusion also suffers from a common horror mistake: over-explanation. Rather than focusing on the characters dealing with the wind, snow, lack of food, and omnipresent death, Katsu spends inordinate space telling you exactly what has been stalking the wagon train all along.


There is such a thing as disposable fiction, and it has its purpose. A book that serves to pass the minutes on a bus or the hours at an airport. A book that you might not remember, but that lets you momentarily forget. Many genre titles are like that, including those of the horror variety.

The Hunger is not one of those books. This is a book that strives to be more, that should have been more. Katsu had an excellent idea, and put forth a lot of work. Unfortunately, she never injects the binding agent that might have held it all together, and it ends up collapsing.
Profile Image for Jilly.
1,838 reviews6,163 followers
July 1, 2018
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.

Profile Image for Sandra.
667 reviews6 followers
February 25, 2021
Haunting and eerie reimagining of the Donner Party tragedy. I enjoyed the creepy paranormal elements the author added to the story. A very captivating read with great atmosphere and tense situations. Many characters that I didn’t like at the beginning of the book I felt bad for by the end. This is the first book I’ve read by Alma Katsu and I look forward to reading more by this author.
Profile Image for Beata.
729 reviews1,115 followers
May 11, 2020
Having finished another novel on the Oregon Trail, I decided to read The Hunger which had been on my list for a long time. The title is meaningful as although the story concentrates around the Donner families and those who travelled in the train with them, it is the hunger that is the main motif. Ms Katsu included the element of horror into her novel and I think it was a splendid idea and the tragic finale is the consequence of all horrors that the main characters carry with themselves and of all mistakes they make.
Profile Image for Ginger.
753 reviews373 followers
September 24, 2019
Hmmm, I’m not sure how to rate this! I think it’s between 3.5/4.0 stars for me. I liked the historical fiction aspect of the book along with the horror elements. I thought the writing in The Hunger was well done.

I think if you go into this only looking for horror, you’ll be disappointed. The horror elements were more at the end. They showed up with about 15% left in the book. I liked the concept of

The Hunger was a retelling of the infamous Donner party and a character study of what happens to human beings who deal with freezing temperatures, starvation and isolation.

I thought The Hunger by Alma Katsu had similarities to The Terror by Dan Simmons.
Some historical fiction, a bit of mystical realism and horror thrown all together in a cauldron of despair and fear!
This book was also a slow burn to the end. It had enough historical information to make it interesting, such as the caravan and way of life back in the 1800s.

The characterization was just okay. If anything was lacking in this book, I think this was it. I'm also judging it to The Terror so here are my thoughts on it.

I didn’t really love anyone in the book and didn’t really hate anyone in the book. Lewis Keseberg and John Snyder were two characters that I could have really hated.
I wish more attention had been spent their way! They both had great potential to be really complicated and evil characters.
In my opinion, they were just inching over the line with their potential and fell short for me.

I wish I could have liked Charles Stanton more. He had all the qualities to be a great leader and it just fell short for me as well. When
The rest of the characters (and there were a lot) were just okay. Tamsen Donner was an interesting character and I did like her! Lots of secrets and uncertainity about her motives. Nicely done with her.

Don’t get me wrong! I still enjoyed this book and what happens to characters when the world is falling apart. People do tend to go after someone who is different then them.

You end up reading this in regards to Tamsen Donner and the Native American kid, Timothy.
One knows herbs and how to heal (witch!!) and the other is not white. I guess not much has changed in hundreds of years. Ha!
Profile Image for Carrie.
3,157 reviews1,516 followers
March 2, 2018
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.

For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.com/
Profile Image for Will Ejzak.
182 reviews5 followers
January 2, 2019
About 70% of The Hunger is an industry standard romance novel: 40% rustic heterosexual fanfiction, 8% juicy incest fanfiction, 22% overwrought homosexual fanfiction. There may not be a ton of food, but there are plenty of longing, furtive glances to go around in the Donner party caravan. The women have eyes like the ocean and waists so thin you can "circle them with two hands." The men are either guilt-ridden sexy brooding heroes or slobbering rapists (whose raping tendencies, as it turns out, are not their fault but the unfortunate side effect of a "family curse"). The characterization would feel familiar even if you'd never read or seen a book before.

The 30% of the novel that might be considered horror is straightforward zombie business. People get bitten and infect other people. If the Donner party weren't so busy getting distracted by each other's magnificent eyes, tiny waists, big, sexy man hands, and powerful, muscular statures, it might not have taken them 300 pages to figure this mystery out. But they didn't, and now they're all dead.

RIP, Donner party. We hardly knew ye beyond your sordid romantic histories. And three cheers for Charles Stanton, the single handsomest, most splendid man who ever lived. I'm sure we would have been best friends.
Profile Image for Tammy.
511 reviews430 followers
March 13, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Sadie Hartmann.
Author 24 books4,110 followers
April 23, 2018
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.
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!!
June 13, 2018
4.5 Hungy, hungy stars

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

“Evil was invisible, and it was everywhere.”
― Alma Katsu

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

And still the voices crowded her head, whispering terrible things and leaving a deep tunnel of loneliness, as if their words were sharp and physical things hollowing out her center. She was desperate for quiet, for peace, for silence.”
― Alma Katsu

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 aloneness ate a hole through him. Sometimes he worried that the loneliness had taken everything, that there was nothing left of him at all on the inside.”
― Alma Katsu

“Elitha couldn’t pretend. She burned with shame. And still the voices crowded her head, whispering terrible things and leaving a deep tunnel of loneliness, as if their words were sharp and physical things hollowing out her center. She was desperate for quiet, for peace, for silence.”
― Alma Katsu

“Then the Lord must be mightily displeased with you, because he has led you into the valley of death. Make peace with your Lord before it is too late, because the hungry ones are coming for you.”
― Alma Katsu

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

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.


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: https://scarlettreadzandrunz.com/
November 21, 2021

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DNF @ 12%

I have a new policy that I drop books I'm not feeling and this is one of those books. I have enjoyed some of Alma Katsu's other books, specifically The Taker trilogy, but this one just felt so flat and wooden. I actually had the pleasure of going to a talk about the Donner party recently and it was really interesting because their ill-fated journey was kind of a blend of bad luck and misinformation. They weren't bad people, they just did what they needed to survive and it was awful. The exploitative paranormal twist (I read spoilers) felt kind of distasteful to me. Maybe I wouldn't have minded so much if I hadn't gone to the talk, but after reading spoilers and seeing the direction in which this was headed (I was getting Old West Game of Thrones vibes), I was like, "Nah."

2 stars
Profile Image for Melki.
5,793 reviews2,341 followers
November 19, 2019
Donner frowned. "We have ninety people in our party . . ."

Not for long you don't . . . hehehe.

The sad tale of the Donner Party has been told many times. It's been fictionalized, and nearly mythologized. Katsu's retelling is a welcome addition to the canon. Her twist? There are supernatural influences afflicting that doomed party as it weaves its way through forbidden mountains.

"There's no game in these woods - have you noticed? That's because there's nothing left. Nothing. Something's out there eating every living thing."

In Katsu's story, total strangers are thrown together on an interminable trek that is fraught with danger and uncertainty. Conflicts arise over who should lead. Many members of the party are hiding dark secrets, and some are running from past indiscretions. A few have hidden agendas that threaten the well-being of all the travelers.

And, then . . . people start disappearing.

All of this makes for high drama, and the supernatural bits were not really necessary for this to be one taut thriller. It was definitely the most riveting book I read during Spooktober.
Profile Image for Emily.
1,265 reviews333 followers
April 20, 2018
"He told her of a hunger that lodged not in his stomach, but his blood, an excavating hunger that festered like an unclean wound." (148)


The story of The Hunger is a fascinating concept, and I have been so excited for this book for months. As you can tell from my rating, this book was pretty hyped, and I ended up disappointed.

The Hunger is a slow-burn story, but the sense of dread that carries out from the beginning is so well done. I was expectantly waiting for it all to come together in the end, but the book became more and more disjointed and confusing. There were too many characters, and it was hard to keep track of everyone. I think I would have had a better time with the book if there would have been more focus on fewer characters, and everyone else was left to the background. The chronology also got complicated - more flashbacks started popping up as the book went on, and it all became sort of convoluted. In the end, I was left with many more questions than answers.

The sense of unsettling anticipation began to fade for me during the second half or the book when I realized the focus was being removed from potential creepiness and put onto other things - mainly romance. Characters started falling in love, and I was just ready for them to eat each other.

I think Alma Katsu had a lot of good ideas, but it just wasn't a very cohesive story in the end. I was happy to hear in her afterword that she took the time to get a sensitivity reader, and that shows that she cares about her projects & the people who will be reading them.

The Hunger will be great for the right reader - if you like historical fiction with a bit of spookiness, or paranormal westerns, this book will probably be for you. I enjoyed Alma Katsu's creativity, and despite my low rating for this book, I would love to see what else she comes up with.

Thank you so much to Glasstown Entertainment & Alma Katsu for sending early copies to the Night Worms!
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,136 followers
August 5, 2018
Ok!....Alright!.........Alma Katsu takes us on a spook-filled journey with a mix of historical-fiction and horror as we follow The Donner Party wagon train from Independence, Missouri west toward California.

Month by month beginning June 1846 through January 1847 we become acquainted with the pioneers, their tumultuous lives that sent them west in the first place and the disastrous mistakes made along the trail that leave them struggling for survival in the end. (no spoiler here)

And when IT all begins....the warning....the phantom voices....movement in the dark of night, and a missing child come morning, fear takes over....fear of what's out there....fear of each other....and fear of a mysterious sickness.

And now...."There's something following us."

THE HUNGER is not without its flaws, but I wouldn't miss it; and OMGOSH it's one engaging read that has peaked my interest in the real Donner Party crossing adding two non-fiction books to my shelf!

Profile Image for Juli.
1,879 reviews473 followers
February 15, 2018
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.**
Profile Image for Blair.
1,768 reviews4,238 followers
January 30, 2018
In The Hunger, Alma Katsu takes a real historical event – the dreadful fate of the Donner Party – and reimagines it as a horror story. (Of course, you could say it's already a horror story, but in this case it's the supernatural kind.) We follow a large cast of characters as they head out on a journey from Missouri to California in 1846. They're beset by bad luck from the start, and their inept 'leaders' repeatedly ignore warnings to avoid the treacherous route ahead. When a boy goes missing and his body is later found bizarrely mutilated, it's just the beginning of a series of horrifying developments that will ultimately claim the lives of many of the party.

There are lots of people in this story – the majority of them based on real historical figures. We spend the most time with Charles Stanton, a single man seeking to escape a fraught past; Mary Graves, who falls in love with him; James Reed, another man with secrets he'll do anything to keep; Tamsen Donner, unfaithful wife to George; and Tamsen's 13-year-old stepdaughter Elitha, who hears the voices of the dead. I was a little resistant, at first, to the idea of reading lots of backstory and everyday detail about all these people, but there's more than enough charm and colour to make them intriguing. I actually found the pacing to be the most troublesome thing about the story. In the final third, lots of things happen very quickly, and the potential tension and terror of these climactic events are lost in a confused, fast-moving narrative.

Going by the cover and blurb, I assumed the bulk of the story would take place in the frozen mountains – I was hoping for something supremely evocative and chilling, akin to Michelle Paver's Dark Matter. In fact, most of The Hunger sees the group crossing barren desert, and Katsu's main focus is fleshing out the (human) characters. This is great if you're looking for a character-driven historical saga, or want to learn more about the lives of American pioneers in the mid-19th century; not so much if you're in it for the atmosphere and creepy scenes. The end result is a historical novel with an element of supernatural horror in which the latter is largely incidental.

I received an advance review copy of The Hunger from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Profile Image for Jack.
Author 4 books129 followers
February 23, 2022
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 The Hunger 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. The Hunger is a more methodical thriller, more patient in its approach, and doesn't just hand the reader everything on a silver platter.

The world was fragile. One day, growth; the next day, kindling.

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 their 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, The Hunger 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.

There was something dark about her soul, something remote and flickering, like a flame in wind…

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

”I don’t believe in monsers,” Stanton said. “Only men who behave like them.”

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.

From a distance she seemed even more beautiful to him now, but also frightening, like a newly sharpened knife.

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 not simple people…and years on the trail leaves plenty of time for introspection.

”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 remembered that.”

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.

Put any two young men together and before long they’d be questioning each other’s smarts, whether they’d ever been with a girl, and the size of their peckers.

It must also be said that The Hunger 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.

The river looked to her like a bed made with clean linens. It looked like home.

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.

Hope, Tamsen realized, could be a very dangerous thing, especially when dealt to desperate hands.

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 The Hunger. 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 The Hunger. 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.

It was hard to be a young widow in a small town – men assumed things about women who had known a man’s attentions and suddenly had to do without.

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 The Hunger. 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?
Profile Image for Cortney -  The Bookworm Myrtle Beach.
824 reviews109 followers
July 25, 2019
Oh my gosh, I LOVED this book! It was so well-written, it was creepy and haunting, and I loved the paranormal spin on a story we were taught in school. The characters, their feelings, the cold, the hunger, the landscape was all described so well... I cannot wait to read everything else Alma Katsu has written. 5 very big stars!
Profile Image for Mike's Book Reviews.
139 reviews5,694 followers
October 11, 2020
Full Video Review Here: https://youtu.be/wzrqRFh1Vok

As a full on history nerd in high school, the real-life events of The Donner Party is something I have researched and learned about tirelessly over the years. So when I heard that Alma Katsu was writing what has become known as historical horror fiction about The Donner Party, my interest was peaked.

The sad part is, I was greatly disappointed with this book. It is a topic that was primed to have a supernatural spin put on one of the darkest stories within American history, those spins put on it are uninspired and unnecessary. The story of the Donner Party are horrifying enough in their own right and the decisions that Ms. Katsu makes really takes away from those horrors.

The writing is fast-paced and there is by no means any problems with her talent as a writer, the decisions that she made just didn't click for me. I think if you don't know the history behind the Donner Party you could still enjoy this, but to me it felt like a missed opportunity.
Profile Image for inciminci.
355 reviews31 followers
March 21, 2023
There's this thing that I can't really get one hundred percent invested in Katsu's historical horrors. I can't find any fault here – it is all perfectly normal, even well written, but I neither felt attached to characters or was interested in what happened to them, nor was I moved or scared or shocked by the plot. A solid meh, I guess.
Profile Image for Shainlock .
737 reviews
August 30, 2019
Okay, so I realized while reading a book on similar subject matter Aka The Donner Party tragedy I never reviewed this book properly. I sure did read it fast enough.
What got me about this book was that you have real life tragedy and horror and then the author uses actual creepy horror to turn it into a sublime and freaktastic story!
The weird thing is, it could be totally plausible ! You have to use your imagination a bit and think and then voila !
I loved this book. The ending left a little to be desired but this was like being there with these travelers watching it all spiral into oblivion. Yes, it’s a dark book cause yes, it’s about the Donner party, but I love the author’s spin on it.
Profile Image for Eliza.
594 reviews1,374 followers
January 9, 2020
Actual: 3.75/5

If you’ve ever heard of the Donner Party, you know that they were a group of people who migrated to California by wagon through the Midwest during the 1840s. And well, there were a lot of events that went wrong during this trip: snowstorms, power rifts, and oh yeah, cannibalism.

And it’s all true.

Of course, Katsu fictionalized this story because no one can truly know what was said or happened, but it’s obvious she did ample research. That, and I could tell the facts were pretty accurate because I was fascinated with this story years ago, and reading this reminded me of what I already knew.

From the beginning, I thought this was going to be a 5 or 4-star rating because I was enjoying it so immensely. The writing. The characters. The story. Everything was really good. But somewhere after the halfway mark, the flow of the story wavered and it wasn’t as interesting anymore.

That said, this story still maintained its eeriness and mystery aspect. I think it can even be labeled as horror because of how some scenes were described (especially the mutilated bodies). If not horror, then definitely a psychological thriller. Either way, if the Donner Party is something in history that interests you, or you’re just into horror/mystery, I recommend this one!
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,030 reviews2,604 followers
March 6, 2018
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/03/06/...

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.
March 2, 2022
So, on this rather cold first day of the month, I've been sitting here with my coffee, contemplating about which fragrance of Yankee candle I should purchase next, and faintly, in the background, there is a little voice yelling, 'What the hell did you just read?!'

This book was past being silly. It was borderline ridiculous.

I'm fairly relaxed when it comes to genres, and it has been known for me to feast on some gory mayhem, every now and then. The Hunger has been splattered about my feed for around a year, so I wanted to see what the hype was all about.

The premise was promising, and I think the concept was most definitely intriguing, but that all turned to sludge, quite early on.

Essentially, this is a zombie style story. A person has a virus, bites another person which then spreads that virus. It was the characters experiencing this virus that irritated me no end. The men all had wonderful big legs, tall, dark...you know the rest, but the women, well, they all had eyes you could get lost in, breasts you could set up home between, and yet, something or someone is killing the party, but all these characters can think about is their genitals.

The author feels the need to explain something over, and over and over again. Please, leave some imagination to the reader. You almost killed mine.

There was no real sense of dread, and zero build up. It was extremely anticlimactic, and as for any of the characters, they just drifted in and out the story, with no real purpose, and therefore, they didn't do an awful lot.

This was such a disappointment of something I was actually looking forward to, but thankfully, not all is lost, as I have learned that if I ever experience a zombie outbreak, the very first and most important think on my mind would not be survival, but the art of locating a male with a strong pair of legs.
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