A Feast of a Book: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Posted 16th July 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Lesbian MC, asexual secondary character
Published on: 9th August 2022

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 received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~maps taste better with ketchup
~Gameboys make me emotional now
~princesses have teeth
~mothers who burn the world down for their kids are A++
~I wanna be a book eater too (sans the sexism!)

“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” ~Francis Bacon

Never has that quote seemed so apt as when reading this utterly marvelous tale of people who eat books!

The book eaters are a human-adjacent species who…literally eat books. They have special book-teeth and everything! Different genres and prose styles have different flavours (which is the kind of tiny detail I adore) and a book eater can perfectly remember every word of every book they’ve ever eaten. This means, of course, that over the course of their life they amass a ridiculously huge amount of knowledge.

…Or, it should. But book eaters are patriarchal, sexist dicks, so female book eaters are kept on a diet of fairytales and fluff-fiction to keep them ignorant and docile. Because there aren’t many book eaters around, and they’re not very fertile, and girl children are much rarer than boys. So it’s pretty important that the women accept the fact that they’re ‘leased’ out for short-term marriages in the hopes of them having as many (preferably female) children as possible. If they were ever to realise they had more options than being sheltered princesses in towers, well…things might go badly.

Devon is an ex-princess. When we first meet her, she’s on the run with her five-year-old son Cai – who isn’t a book eater, but a mind eater, something the collected book eater Families consider monstrous and dangerous. Mind eaters are supposed to be handed over to the Knights, the all-male order who negotiate and keep track of marriages between the Families, but fuck that. Devon is not giving up her son…even if he is a monster. Her one hope is to track down the remnants of a fallen Family and get her hands on the drug they once produced – the drug that lets mind eaters live as normal book eaters.

More or less, anyway.

Dean’s writing is sharp and tight and gleaming, gorgeously smooth in a way that makes the book impossible to put down. Which I’m very glad of, because I was a little taken aback when I first started reading; The Book Eaters is not the magical, more fanciful tale I was kind of expecting from the premise people who eat books. This book is sharp book-teeth behind an agreeable smile; it’s a look of rage hidden by long hair and a bowed head; it’s what is left behind when illusions are shattered and the scales torn from your eyes.

It’s what happens when you push a mother past helplessness and into the dark, desperate, dangerous space beyond it.

It is not what I expected, and to be honest, if it had been written by anyone else I might have put The Book Eaters away to come back to later – it’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy stories that feature sexism and rage-inducing men and people I like being stuck in horrible situations. I’ve been wanting a lot more escapism, lately.

But it wasn’t written by anyone else, it was written by Sunyi Dean, and I wasn’t being hyperbolic when I said it’s unputdownable. Whenever I picked up The Book Eaters I lost hours of time as her prose swept me away into Devon’s world and made me forget about everything else. There are writers who can make you feral for a story and its characters, and Dean is definitely one of them; I had to keep reading to find out what Devon was planning, to make sure she and Cai would be okay, to be there for whatever happened next.

And wow did I not see it coming! Dean doesn’t save the twists for the final moment; I swear I got whiplash at the big reveal a third of the way through, and the whole book was like that, unpredictable as anything, keeping me on my toes and glued to the pages. The Book Eaters is much more than a completely unique premise; it’s fierce and clever and pointed and tricksy, constantly surprising, without a single wasted word. Every sentence is exactly as it needs to be, every scene and chapter is completely necessary, every line distilled down to its ultimate potency. And by that I don’t mean that The Book Eaters is solely plot-driven – the secondary timeline of the book, showing us Devon’s past, is all about her developing as a character and a person; there are many moments of introspection, and scenes that are all about emotion, not action.

What I mean is that Dean nails the balance of plot and – and heart; that elusive thing we write fanfic to get our fill of, because so many stories don’t give it to us as part of canon. The human moments, the in-between moments, the moments that do not directly move the plot forward but make the plot matter. The magic that transforms a character on the page into a person whose story we need to know.

Is there a name for that? Because whatever it is, Dean gets it, understands it, and gives it to us; not so much that it would diffuse the power of the overarching story, but exactly the right amount to magnify the power of the story.

If we were all book eaters, and could devour our copies of Devon’s story right down to the endpapers, The Book Eaters would be a Michelin-star dish.

If you haven’t yet, you must preorder this book immediately.

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