Five Books Featuring Unholy Hungers

Looking for some alternative Valentine’s day goodies? Christina Ladd offers up some insights on cannibalism and books.

By Christina Ladd

Cannibalism may not be that effective in terms of survival, but it sure does work for making people afraid. Here are five novels that amp up the creep factor; if you can stomach them, they’re excellent reads.

Star Eater (Kerstin Hall) – A long, drawn-out semi-devouring of a person is still cannibalism; some might even argue it’s worse than regular ol’ Donner Party fare (pun intended). The Sisters of the Aytrium don’t think so, though: they derive their power from consuming very small amounts of flesh cut from their own still-living but comatose mothers. This preserves their magical bloodlines to some extent, but magic is still failing across the land. In order to save everyone, Elfreda will have to get to the heart (pun also intended) of their magic—both the “civilized” intergenerational cannibalism, as well as the zombification that happens when magic runs out of control. 

A Certain Hunger (Chelsea Summers) – Yes, your stomach will churn. Yes, you will perhaps feel some concern about the world of celebrity chefs. But I fervently hope that you will also love the vivacious, vicious Dorothy, who refuses to curb any of her appetites. Meticulous, witty, and clever, Dorothy is a top-shelf dame, even if (or perhaps because) she’s also a sociopathic terror. 

Bones and All (Camille DeAngelis) – Ghouls, flesh-eating monsters of myth, are not exactly what most people go to when crafting a YA novel. Quoth DeAngelis: watch me. This coming-of-age and first blossoming of love is braided up with a cross-country mystery as protagonist Maren tries to figure out why she is the way she is. Along the way she meets other ghouls like her, all of them searching for the meaning of their strange, terrible gift. 

Exquisite Corpse (Poppy Z. Brite) – Ask anyone to supply a name of a fictional cannibalistic serial killer and they’d probably say Hannibal*, so you’ll know you’ve found a dedicated horror fan if they instead say Jay Byrne from Exquisite Corpse. This book was so disturbing that the original publisher rejected the manuscript, but fortunately Simon & Schuster picked it up. Though not for the faint of heart it’s not a glorification of killing. It’s instead a terrible and haunting look into the darkest corners of human cruelty and power.

Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe) – Highly ritualized cannibalism magic is still cannibalism, and Wolfe makes sure we understand that when we watch our hero Severian consume part of his beloved Thecla. A concoction made from the secretions of a mythic beast (the alzabo, a profoundly underrated monster) mean that Thecla’s personality will become a part of Severian, not just her flesh. He then goes forth as two people, 

*Hannibal the cannibal. It rhymes. How did this franchise manage to transfix us? How? I’m not mad, just incredulous. Culture is weird.

Christina Ladd is a writer, reviewer, and librarian who lives in Boston, MA. She will eventually die crushed under a pile of books, but until then she survives on a worrisome amount of tea and pizza. You can find more of her work on Strange Horizons, Speculative North, The Nerd Daily, The Dread Machine, and more.

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