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First Look Club: Clifford reviews The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

First Look Club: Clifford reviews The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


By Sunyi Dean

Publication date: August 2, 2022

Reviewed by Clifford Jongko

A woman and a child on the run from a secret society, hoping to find a cure for a mysterious illness. It may sound like a confluence of tropes. Perhaps it is. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Book Eaters. You can stop reading my book review right here and go get your copy.

Mother and Son On the Run

To be honest, I was going to put off reading The Book Eaters after the first couple of chapters because of the somewhat all-too-familiar premise. Devon, the mother, is one of the titular book eaters who — quite literally — eat books and digests print to knowledge. Cai, the son, is a mutation of the same species: instead of eating books, he consumes minds like a vampire. I was going to put it off, but I just remembered I’m required to read the entire thing, so read it, I must. And I’m glad I did.

Devon and Cai’s story is told in medias res, with flashbacks filling in the readers in until they’re caught up. While not exactly an original storytelling device (as someone who watched the first few seasons of Arrow with increased annoyance), it is used to good effect before getting into the meat of the action: a fellowship, a reckoning, perhaps one or two Chekhov’s guns to watch for.

Here There Be Dragons

One of the things I loved about The Book Eaters is that author Sunyi Dean didn’t delve into the “science of” book eaters to explain their whys; they just are. As evidenced in many Stephen King tales, the strange and abstract are most effective when there’s no explanation. Creatures such as the book eaters, in the hands of a clumsy author, would have had a chapter — nay, an appendix — devoted to answering questions like, why do book eaters have “bookteeth”? How do Cai and other “dragons” happen to have a shared biology with book eaters? Do they see trees as the equivalent of raw meat?

The author’s choice to set the story as an urban fantasy made it more accessible, but also made it difficult not to compare it to other works of the genre. The aristocratic families are reminiscent of the vampire families from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Their paramilitary “knights” are pretty much The Court of Owls without the masks, while the dragons reminded me of the vampire race in The Strain. In a post-Song of Ice and Fire world, the drama surrounding arranged marriages may be a bit old hat — but at least it doesn’t seem forced in this book.

Something to Sink Your Teeth Into

Having said all that, I didn’t expect to enjoy a book about cellulose-consuming aristocrats as much as I did. I’ve read somewhere that the author doesn’t intend to expand this universe, which makes me both sad and relieved. Sad because I think there are more stories to be told, but relieved because it seems like a lot of authors want to expand one good book into a franchise that would become unwieldy over time. The Book Eaters is good as it is: it’s dark, it’s absurd, and it’s both strange and familiar — it’s something to sink your (book)teeth into.

Clifford is a content writer, musician, and caffeine fiend who co-hosts comic book podcast Those Fcking Nerds (@thoseeffingnerds) on Facebook, designs custom slipcases and box sets, and does the occasional unboxing videos. Check out his stuff on Instagram, Substack, and YouTube at your own peril.

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