by Indra Das
Published on July 12, 2016 by Del Rey
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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For readers of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, and David Mitchell comes a striking debut novel by a storyteller of keen insight and captivating imagination.
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.
I came into this book with few expectations outside of a standard akin to the aforementioned Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood. And, in all honesty, it was that piece of the description that made my decision on whether I would read it or not because the synopsis alone hadn’t been enough for me. I loved Gaiman’s Stardust – in fact, it is likely one of my favorites – but this book was definitely not on the same level as the authors Indra Das is comparing the writing to.
The Devourers is a flowery-worded narrative detailing a history professor, Alok, and his chance meeting with a man who claims to be a half-werewolf. The store progresses to Alok helping this stranger to translate pieces of his history. As a whole, the premise is interesting and would likely make for a great story if not for the story’s perchance at putting me to sleep.
No doubt it is an unpopular opinion but the author’s writing style was too much for me. There are two different types of dense writing for me. One falls in with books like A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings where there is just so much detail about everything that it can become less about the story and more about the world – I call it world writing (yes, I’m horridly creative). The Devourers falls into what I consider flower writing where the author seems to be more focused on making a statement about the world or society through metaphors and visceral details that mask the actual story.
I felt no connection to these characters. The professor held too much of an obsession with the stranger from the beginning, so much so that by the end when a key point of his character is revealed (a real WTF moment that made no sense for the way the story and Alok were written), I didn’t care. I felt no inclination to see anything past the story ending.
What I found the most off-putting was those details I mentioned before. Personally, I have no problems with blood and gore, with a sex scene played out in full. I’ve seen it before and likely will again. But unlike other books, I was disgusted by several of the scenes. They read in such a primitive way I think my dogs would find them gross (and considering the things I’ve seen my dogs do, that’s a small wonder). Once again the writing was conflicting as technically, it was well done and everything came into perfect detail but then again, it was a bit too perfect.
I can see why others might enjoy this book but I do not recommend it to anyone who dislikes the more gruesome aspects of life. There was a lot of potential hidden in these pages, with a rich history and mythology that never really had its chance to shine due to a far less compelling story. I almost left this book as unfinished but pushed through to the end in the hopes that it would get better. And to that end, The Devourers frankly wasn’t a book for me.