The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Have you ever wanted to eat a book? Of course you have, if you're a reader. You can't tell me your appetite has never been at least slightly roused by that fresh, crispy, warm book smell. In The Book Eaters, however, all books have distinguishing effects on the taste buds. Fairy tales burst with colors and sparkles. Historical adventures sizzle with gunfights. Well-crafted romance novels are like fine wine (and I don't even read romance). I couldn't wait to visit and experience this book-eating world for myself.

The origins of book eaters are shrouded in mystery. They claim to be an alien species that was placed on Earth by a being referred to as the Collector. Only six families remain, all hidden away from the public eye in stately homes, and marriages must be carefully arranged to ensure the race continues, and healthily so. Girls are rare and, as a result, are generally pampered. Book eaters appear to be human, but they consume books in order to live and absorb information. Interestingly, writing is near-impossible and reading is frowned upon.

This posed a bit of a challenge for me when I entered the world as a book eater. I had to make sure my own book was well hidden from Devon Fairweather, the protagonist, as it was my only means of returning to my library. I couldn't afford to have it eaten. In case you were wondering, yes, refraining from eating it myself was a struggle. The scent at first was like biblichor, as Devon remarked, but then a buffet of other smells followed, a fantastical blend of genres that was overwhelming and tempting at the same time.

Luckily, Devon didn't ask too many questions, not when she had to be focused on helping and protecting her son. In the meantime, I visited the nearest bookshop and purchased some fantasy classics, and then I returned to Devon's flat and sank my "bookteeth" into them. Words cannot describe how exquisite my first book-eating experience was, even the consumption of H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction. Who knew the pungent flavor of human existential dread wrapped in cold, tough leather with crisp, gilded pages could be so delicious?

It's no surprise that I'm drawn to morally gray characters, and Devon is proof that love—even a mother's love—is not inherently good and can be selfish and deadly.

Devon was born and raised in a system that prioritized her reproductive ability. As a little girl, she was fed fairy tales to keep her believing that she was a princess to be protected and wedded. Princesses marrying princesses was a foreign concept until she dared to sneak and consume other books, a curious trait that sets her apart from other book eaters. Without access to different books and capacity for imagination, book eater women simply accept their role in life and their knights in shining armor, regardless of how cold or abusive the knights may be.

The system is terrible, but it isn't just the system in which you might find yourself that is designed to control and exploit you—it's also your universe. Granted, I do not believe your universe is sentient (and for that you should be grateful), but it's clearly indifferent to mortal needs, desires, and woes. Progress is never painless, and harm is inevitable. Life is a battle for all forms, from the nanoscopic to the macroscopic, and book eaters are no different.

In the human world, book eaters are seriously disadvantaged. Because women are so few, the men believed they had no choice but to establish a system that would protect and continue the species. Oppressors can see themselves as heroes who are just trying to maintain the "ideal" order, or the "natural" order of things. Oppressive systems don't manifest out of thin air; there's a reason for their existence, and it's usually rooted in ignorance and fear.

I am, of course, not attempting to justify oppressive actions, but to simply shed light on them. When a group of people have claimed power for so long, they are naturally reluctant to share it, lest they suffer a fate worse than death—humility.

My escapade with Devon Fairweather and her son wasn't too exciting or adventurous, but meeting the book eaters, learning their ways and traditions, and temporarily becoming one myself was certainly an experience. You might not find Devon to be the most morally palatable person. She can't always make the most ethical choices, and really, how many of us could honestly say we would, no matter how difficult the situation?

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