Sunyi Dean's debut novel, The Book Eaters, is a surprisingly moving horror-fantasy hybrid that envisions a society where the titular book eaters consume books in place of food. The book eaters are unmistakably vampiric creations, both in their ancient fustiness and their secretive role behind the scenes of human civilization--but more explicitly in the introduction of a kind of subspecies called mind eaters, who prey on people. An early, disturbing scene portrays the book-eater protagonist, Devon, feeding a vicar to her ravenous mind-eater son, leaving the vicar a barely living husk.
Perhaps even more of a threat than her son's monstrous hunger are the clans of book eaters that Devon left behind. Dean alternates between chapters set in the present and in the past, in which readers are introduced to the book eaters' suffocating patriarchal society, a rule-bound world where there is no room for assertive women or queer love. The book eaters consume not only physical books but also the words and stories inside, which gives Dean a handy way to ruminate on the importance of narrative. Book-eater women like Devon have their diet limited to a highly gendered selection of fairy tales and the like--a sly way of constricting their understanding of possibilities.
After an act of rebellion sends Devon into hiding, she is forced to construct a new sense of herself while desperately evading the book eater foot soldiers who pursue her and her son. The Book Eaters is an exciting and grotesque novel with an open, earnest heart. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine