Excerpt from The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Book Eaters

by Sunyi Dean

The Book Eaters by  Sunyi Dean X
The Book Eaters by  Sunyi Dean
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2022, 304 pages

    Jun 2023, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Print Excerpt

In short, Devon had always to act like prey, and not like the predator she had become.

She picked up the pace, keen to get home. The flat she rented (cash only, no questions) occupied a squalid space above a tire shop. In the daytime it was noisy, reeked of oil, and filled with the conversation of customers. The evenings were quieter, if no less foul-smelling.

Down the alley, up the stairs to the back entrance. There was no street-facing door, but that was a good thing. Meant she could come and go by dark side alleys, unwatched by curious eyes—and so could her visitors, when she had them. Privacy was essential.

Devon fished out a set of keys, hanging around her neck on a lanyard. The cord was entangled with a brass compass on a steel chain. She shook the lanyard free, slotted the key in, and wrestled briefly with the lock before stepping inside.

Since neither she nor her son required light, the flat sat in perpetual dark. It saved on the energy meter and reminded her a little of home, back when home had been welcoming: the cool unlit calm of Fairweather Manor, with its shade-tinted hallways and shadow-layered libraries.

She was expecting human company, though, and switched on all the lights. Cheap bulbs flickered into anemic existence. The flat contained only a claustrophobic living space, a small kitchenette with fold-out table, a bathroom veering off to the left, and a locked bedroom to her right where her son spent much of every day. She dropped her bag by the door, hung her coat on a hook, and clunked across to his room.

"Cai? Are you awake?"

Silence, then the faintest of shuffles from within.

"No lotion, sorry," she said. "They were out. I'll get some tomorrow, aye?"

The shuffling stopped.

Always, she was tempted to go in and offer comfort of some kind. By the three-week mark, starvation would have ravaged him to thinness, his suffering spiraling into unbearable agony as his body began to produce toxins. The madness already gnawed his mind, incurable except through his next feed, and even after feeding, the craving would remain ever-present. He would either sit in a corner, huddled up and unresponsive, or else attack her in a frothing rage.

Impossible to know which reaction she'd get and so, fingers shaking, she checked and double-checked the bolts instead of going in. One on the top and one on the bottom, both solid things she'd installed herself, and one regular lock that required a key. The room had no window, courtesy of its awkward layout in relation to the shop; no additional security needed there. For once.

Someone knocked at the entrance to her flat. She jumped, felt chagrined, then checked her watch. Ten past eight; bang on time. Just as well she'd not gone back for the lotion.

Devon went to let in her guest. He had a name, but she would not allow herself to think it. Better to consider only his role, his profession: the local vicar. He needed to be no more and no less.

The vicar waited anxiously on her doorstep, wearing a black-and-mustard coat that might have been fashionable forty years ago. He had kind eyes, a quiet demeanor, and impressive patience with his quarrelsome congregation. Not touchy-feely with kids and no severe personal problems that she could find after two weeks of intense stalking. Everyone had small vices and little problems, always, but that was a given, and she could cope with the small stuff. They were only human, after all.

"Thanks for coming." Devon hunched herself smaller. Be uneasy, be reluctant, and above all, be vulnerable. The sure-fire act that suckered them every time. "I didn't think you would."

"Not at all!" He offered a smile. "As I told you on Sunday, it's no trouble."

Devon said nothing, looking sheepish and fiddling with the compass around her neck. She'd done this conversation or some variation of it so many times, tried all kinds of lines, and found it was better to let them take the initiative. Probably she should have put on something more feminine to look even more unthreatening, but she despised dresses.

Excerpted from The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean. Copyright © 2022 by Sunyi Dean. Excerpted by permission of Tor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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