By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.
From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.
Shifting dreamlike between present and past with intoxicating language, visceral action, compelling characters, and stark emotion, The Devourers offers a reading experience quite unlike any other novel.
An ARC was provided by the publisher/NetGalley for an honest review.
After sitting on my previous rating of 3 stars, I decided to update the book to 4 stars. One of the most compelling reasons for me to do this was the writing. It’s visceral and grotesque–the squeamish might do best to skip the overly descriptive paragraphs. The second reason was the protagonist, Alok. He is an associate/adjunct history professor who’s engagement ended when he confessed to sleeping with men. His complexities that reveal themselves while he is translating the manuscript for the stranger make him more compelling than I thought in my initial impression.
My initial impression was, “this book is not for me,” and therefore judging it based on whether I could relate to the characters or not. For me it was a not, but it’s still a good book and worth reading for reasons I’m will attempt to explain.
The Devourers takes its time luring the reader into a false sense of security–thinking this is just a book about werewolves would be a gross misrepresentation. That it is just and urban fantasy really dilutes the themes that are woven along the duel stories. The two narratives, one, the present with Alok and the stranger, and two, the history of Fenrir and Cyrah (and to some extent Geuvadan), delve into a rich history and world that is more that what it seems. I found that the reason these “shape-shifters” eat people and how they devour the soul, and in many ways take on the characteristics of those they devour, to be introspective and pure in some ways. Shape-shifters don’t just destroy to destroy. They learn, they grow, they become a better version of themselves because of what they eat. Not to say that eating people and devouring souls is a good way to live, but it provides some justification to the slaughter of innocents.
Having time to reflect on this book, there are definitely certain things that will be very compelling to readers, in addition to the points I mentioned previously. The biggest reason I would recommend this is for the themes of gender-fluidity and the fact that Alok is bisexual. The representation here is so valuable and raw. Gender fluidity is also a big part of the shape-shifter mythology in terms of how the shape-shifters reproduce. The explanation doesn’t feel forced or something that should be shamed. It just is.
There’s so much more to the story than the points I’ve mentioned here, like the stories of Hindu mythology that were very interesting to me as a reader who is not from that culture. I do recommend this book for those who are interested in a more in-depth look at urban fantasy stories, stories that touch on gender-fluidity, and superb writing.