One of the best books I read in 2019 (and yes, I didn’t read much in 2019, but it really is excellent) was 2018’s The Hunger by Alma Katsu. I did a Goodreads review about it after I read it.
Spoilers ahead, albeit not major ones, so evaluate that risk yourself!
Winter is coming … and it, among other calamities is brutal for the Donner Party wagon traversing the West in the 1840s. Like the best of Stephen King, Alma Katsu has a horrifying menace lurking just at the perimeter of the humans, but the real menace is always within. Katsu plays with the big themes — otherness, greed, arrogance, stubbornness, and so on — that doom this party. And then she probes these characters even deeper. Every single one of them tragic in their own way, with surprisingly only Reed able to have a sort of optimistic ending in the Epilogue.
The time period and the real life story really add to the classic tale of a journey besieged by human failings … and true to the horror genre, something more than human.
Even though it’s a fast-paced, wild ride, by the end, it also felt like we as readers had taken the journey, too; the pitfalls and all.
If anything other than blood and bone were left in the snow after winter of 1846-7, it’s the tragedy baggage each character carried — longing for a fresh start in what was the promise of the West, but ultimately unable to enjoy the fruits and freedom such a fresh start could bring.
Which, makes me sad. In the best way. Thank you, Katsu.