"The Book Eaters" | Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson
Many bibliophiles report an insatiable appetite for books and for Devon Fairweather, raised on a diet of fairy tales, this is true in the most literal sense. Devon, the tenacious leading lady in Sunyi Dean’s debut novel “The Book Eaters,” like her family and the others like her are book eaters, consuming not only books in their physical form, written in paper and ink, but their contents as well. Stories and histories, maps and love notes all become knowledge and memory with each bite.
Other terrifying human-like creatures gobble up more than books. These are the mind eaters. While book eaters absorb the contents of books with each meal, mind eaters absorb the contents of each person’s mind they consume. These mind eaters, known as “dragons” are managed and kept by the “knights” of the families, their appetite controlled by a mysterious drug and their aggression exploited to maintain power.
In the world of book eaters, women are rare and fertility has become increasingly difficult. The tales of princesses and knights that sustained Devon throughout childhood were intentionally provided to prepare her for a future of arranged marriages and brief motherhood to propagate the species.
After her duty is fulfilled, a book eater woman is sent on to the next marriage until early menopause ends her obligation. When Devon births her first child, she tries to negotiate with her husband to go against tradition and allow her to stay and raise their daughter. While he promises to allow this, and for a time makes good on it—if only to buy her silence and compliance—Devon is ripped from her daughter on the cusp of her third birthday.
Bitterness and resentment growing, Devon is then forcibly paired with a man even worse than her first husband. Even more unfortunate for Devon and her safety, her second child is born both male and a mind eater. Her inability to provide a daughter to her second husband, as she did her first, creates a precarious situation for Devon and her child. Despite their danger to humans and book eaters alike, Devon’s love for her son and refusal to view him as a monster drives her to do the unthinkable—to escape the harsh and reclusive life of book eating to save her son and to find a way to be reunited with her daughter.
“The Book Eaters” is a fantastic modern fairy tale that explores patriarchal culture and the role of women in a male dominated world where their value is found in their ability to breed. Many parallels can be drawn between the supernatural world of book eaters and our own human existence making this book certain to become a conversation starter. Beyond its topical storyline “The Book Eaters” is the best kind of fairy tale: the kind where the princess saves herself and becomes the hero we all need.