Devon is a book eater, and part of an old Family that lives in a manor house on the Yorkshire Moors. Book eaters do as you imagine, eat books for sustenance and take on the information found within. The Family are old fashioned and patriarchal. As one of the few girls being born to book eaters these days, Devon is given fairy tales to eat. Nothing that would spark her imagination to want more from her life. Once she comes of age, she will be sent from her home to live with another Family, marry and birth a child, before being moved on to do so again, in an attempt to keep their species alive.
We meet Devon in the present day, when she’s on the run from the various Families with her son, Cai, who is a mind eater. Some book eaters are born with the ability to eat minds instead, driven to madness and starvation if they don’t. Devon is desperate to find a section of the family that deals in Redemption, a drug that can ease the hunger for a little while. But can she navigate the human world and stay one step ahead of the Families?
I read this because I’ve been listening to the author’s very interesting podcast about the publishing industry. She’s very candid about her deal and how some things went really right for her, while her cohost didn’t get the same treatment. And the book has a seemingly very original plot. I loved the idea of people eating books to survive. It’s a sort of play on vampirism, especially when you throw in the manor home settings and mind eaters. I enjoyed the structure, where it goes back and forth to Devon as a child and adult so we see how she got to where she is. It just didn’t quite hold up to its premise for me.
Firstly there’s the setting. Though it says present day it never felt quite right. As a child Devon could have been in a Victorian novel, it’s all very bleak and gothic and her Family are struggling to hold on to their wealth/position. But they have motorcycles and later mobile phones. They discuss IVF as if it’s new technology but it’s over 40 years old by now. And while this doesn’t hugely matter, it did pull me out of the story, and I was struggling to connect as it was. I just couldn’t care that much about Devon’s predicament, especially as the book went on. She’s just…going along with everything? Part of the point is that she has few choices due to the world she’s in, and no power, but that did start to drag. I really appreciated the bond she had with her children and it showing how far you will go to protect them – even in this case basically murder innocent people. But then this dropped off a bit toward the end in favour of her relationship with Hester, a woman she had literally just met. I like her, their dynamic is good. But you’re gonna put your plan and therefore your son in jeopardy for her? Don’t buy it.
There’s things like this throughout that stopped me from fully investing. She’s finally found the Ravenscars, who have been hiding out with their supply of Redemption, trying not to be discovered by the other Families. And once Devon says she’s staying they just…believe her? No one is watching her. She’s not confined to her room? She gets to leave and go to town and meet people and plot and no one questions or stops her. And then there’s a whole shopping trip for a pricey handbag that felt wildly out of place for me, even if that handbag did come in handy (ugh) later. Her victory did not seem hard won, I kept waiting for someone to snag her in some way, for being overly confident. But it didn’t happen. People just showed up to help her when she needed them.
Anyway, really interesting concept that I wish had been executed a bit differently.