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

"May I come in?" he ventured, and she feigned embarrassment for her rudeness, stepping aside.

His gaze snagged on the dilapidated interior. Devon couldn't blame him. She gave the usual, awkward apologies for the state of the flat while he gave the usual demurring reassurances.

That ritual completed, she said, "My son is in a bad way. I spoke to him earlier, and he didn't answer. You may not have much luck, I'm afraid."

The vicar nodded, lips pursed with concern. "If you are happy for me to try, I will see if I can speak to him."

Devon clenched her teeth to hold back a contemptuous laugh. As if talking could solve problems like this. Wasn't the vicar's fault, she'd been the one to say that Cai had depression, but hysteria crept up on her nonetheless.

The vicar was still awaiting a response. She managed a tight nod, hoping he'd read her emotions for the right kind of conflicted, and led him to the locked door.

"You lock your son in his room?" He sounded shocked, and she could feel the weight of his judgment as she undid each bolt. No doubt he thought she had something to do with Cai's present mental state.

If only he knew.

"It's complicated." Devon turned the key and paused, aware her heart was racing. "I need to ask you something."

"What is it?" The vicar was wary, his senses alert to a danger that his eyes could not perceive.

Didn't matter. He'd been lost the moment he stepped inside.

She met his gaze. "Are you a good person?" The question that consumed her, every time. Every victim. "Are you kind?"

He frowned, considering his words. Trying to understand what reassurance she sought, not that he had a cat's chance in hell of guessing. Still, his hesitation was its own reassurance. The bad ones lied, quick and smooth—or worse, brushed it aside, sometimes with humor. Only those with a conscience would stop and evaluate her question.

"None of us are truly good," the vicar said, at last. He put a hand on her shoulder, so gently, so kindly, and she almost threw up on the spot. "All we can do is live by the light we are given."

"Some of us don't have any light," Devon said. "How are we supposed to live, then?"

He blinked. "I—"

Devon caught his wrist, wrenched the door open, and shoved him in. The vicar wasn't frail but Devon was far stronger than she looked and had the element of surprise. He stumbled forward, startled and gasping, into the darkness of Cai's room. Devon yanked the door shut and held it hard.

"I'm so sorry," she said through the keyhole. "I'm just doing the best I can."

The vicar didn't answer. He was already shouting and thrashing.

Really, it was pointless to apologize. Victims didn't want your sorry-so-sorrys when you were hurting them, they wanted you to stop. Devon couldn't oblige, though, and apologies were all she had these days. Apologies, and booze.

The noise of the vicar's muffled struggling trickled away in a minute or less. She could never decide which was worse: the wailing, or the silence. Maybe they were equally bad. After a moment of dithering, she let go of the doorknob. No point locking up. Cai wouldn't be dangerous, not anymore, and better to make sure he could leave his room if he wished.

The flat oppressed, mildewed walls crushing her spirit to flatness. After so many days of ravenous hunger, her son would need to sleep off his feed. In the meantime, she wanted a drink and there was no vodka in the house.

No, wait. She still had a half bottle of whiskey, left behind by the previous person she'd brought to her home. Devon didn't like whiskey, but right now she liked being sober even less. A couple minutes of rifling through the cabinets turned up the errant alcohol.

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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