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Monday, June 27, 2022

Book review: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean (reviewed by Shazzie)


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Sunyi Dean (Sun yee) is an autistic SFF writer, living the inner-city life in North England with her two kids. When not reading, running, falling over in yoga, or rolling d20s, she sometimes escapes the city to wildswim in lonely dales.

Publisher: Tor Books (August 2, 2022) Page count: 304 p Cover design: 


I had seen this book pop up at several places online, I saw it show up in Goodreads when I added another upcoming release to my to-read shelf, and I saw people on Twitter talking about it as well. I noticed that the US edition had a pop-up castle and what looked like a mom and a child on the cover, and thought, “Pretty, but I think I’ll skip it.” I wish I could pinpoint exactly why I didn’t take it seriously, but I just cannot. One day, a BookTwitter mutual who has a few favourites in common with me told me, “I LOVED IT“.


Then started the usual cycle, I looked it up on NetGalley, and asked her if it was worth it. When I received her reassurance that she thought it would suit my reading preferences, I hit the request button, spent an entire day in agony waiting to hear back about a book I only developed an interest in that afternoon. Once I received a copy, I read it in three days.


This book is set in a world where Sunyi's own twist on vampirism exists. There exists a race of supernatural entities who survive on the knowledge they derive from consuming books. There are of course some deviants, like the protagonist, Devon's son, Cai, who is a mind eater, and are considered abominations. In a world where there are only six such Families - each overseen by a patriarch - exist, female Book Eaters are extremely rare, valued for their ability to birth children, and treated like breeding machines.


The book starts off seemingly simple, introducing the reader to Devon and Cai's present situation, in which they are on the run from the Families due to an incident the reader isn't made aware of, and alternates between the present and past timelines to effectively speak to the reader of Devon's experiences that have led to this point in her life. The author has masterfully structured the book to keep the readers attention focused on Devon's present, and presents her past in a way that leaves the reader with mounting horror at the systemic maintenance of the family structure, at the expense of almost every individual book eater.



While being an easily fast read, this prose employs some unique imagery, and the entire book screams many heavy themes - sexism, systemic oppression, early indoctrination, as well as the idea that information is power, and that those who restrict access to information are the ones who benefit the most.

The concept of outside didn’t exist for one such as Nycteris, nor could it ever. Her upbringing had given her such a fixed perspective that, even when encountering something new, she could only process it along the lines already drawn for her.

As I read about Devon's childhood, I found a few instances of sexism in the kind of life she lived. Not a big deal right? And as she grew up and went ahead with the motions expected of her in life, Sunyi gradually weaved in more and more situations and circumstances that clearly illustrated the dangers of growing within the constraints placed upon us by the only way of life we think is possible, and by never questioning the need for change in centuries worth of traditions. Each of her experiences, as well as those of the other characters with significant page time, highlight the extreme inequality that is so normalised by unquestioningly living a life we are told to strive for.

In my opinion, one of the best devices in this book was the usage of excerpts from various well-known fairy tales and literary works we are all so familiar with. Used at the beginning of some chapters, they helped give me an understanding of the limited world the book eaters created for themselves, but when used before the other chapters, they showed massive applicability to Devon's situation and perceived helplessness. Not only did they drag me deeper into the story, but they also made me sympathise with her, and got me thinking about how young girls are taught to aspire to be princesses, and about how vital a tool these stories are in the effort to control us and tell us what kind of lives we need to wish to have.


Love doesn't have a cost. It's just a choice you make, they way you choose to keep breathing or keep living. It's not about worth and it's not about price. Those concepts don't apply.

This is not just a book that speaks about the truly awful practice that patriarchy is, but also one full of hope. It is one that celebrates motherhood, and shows Devon grow into her mom-strength, and battle obstacles the best she can, accept her losses, and make such heartbreakingly difficult choices in the face of necessity and survival, fighting even when cornered, growing into relationships with those that eventually become her found family.

If, like me, you have seen this book floating around on social media, and haven't considered reading it seriously for some reason, I urge you to pick it up. I was fortunate enough to be told that it is every bit worth the read, and I am here to pay that forward. It is a must-consider for readers who love gothic horror tales, dark fairy tales, diverse sexual representation, twisted families, as well as past timelines that build great tension, along with present timelines that bring stories into cathartic culmination.

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