Indra Das, The Devourers, Del Rey, 2016.
Here was The Devourers, popping up on a few of "Best of scifi 2016" lists. I'm always wary of those lists on which I often find the latest thing everyone raves about and that I barely managed to finish. Only one way to find out: I picked it up, started reading... argh, no, werewolves! Is it going to be Twilight all over again? But I kept on reading and I loved it. (And it's definitely not Twilight!)
Alok lives in Kolkata and, one evening, he has come to listen to traditional storytelling in a park. The drum beats, the heat... After a while, he goes out of the tent and he's joined by a young man who tells him he's half werewolf and who begins to tell his story in a vivid, hypnotising, way. After a very weird evening, they meet the following day and the stranger gives him a manuscript to type.
The Devourers is written in a beautiful prose, with descriptions that make jungle or city come alive. The novel holds stories within the story and Das also weaves in myths and folklore, drawing indiscriminately from the Norse mythology, Indian mythologies and folklores, Muslim mythologies, French folklore... The variety is pretty staggering and gives the story an incredible depth and scope.
The novel alternates with the storylines of Alok, the shape shifter Fenrir and the human Cyrah, all woven around the stranger Alok meets in the opening pages. The story unfolds slowly through Alok's typing of the manuscripts and reveals a tragedy worthy of all the great myths it alludes to and particularly of the Oedipus myth, never mentioned but oh so present.
It's a tale of rage and despair (and fury sometimes also, yes): there's a lot of violence and body horror. But Das never shies from what he writes, even if it's ritualistic, even if it means a higher purpose in a character's eyes. A rape is a rape and claimed as such, with all its consequences (and kudos to Das for doing it really well). There are also many sexual scenes that, as much as the violence and body horror, make sense in light of the title: The Devourers.
The characters are also all linked by the theme unifying the novel: it's not a novel about werewolves, it's a novel about shape shifting. There are, of course, shape shifters, but there are also characters who are one thing and become another or wish to become someone, something, else. The Devourers beyond the obvious kind of horror/fantasy story is a novel about two souls, who you are and who you want to be, and how it can fail miserably because you are blinded by your hybris, or, sometimes, how you can become your true self despite fate. Among all the rage, despair and fury, there may also be hope.
It should also be noted that readers interested in (L)GBT representation in SFF will probably appreciate the novel.
The Devourers is a tragedy full of violence and sex. It certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea. But it's written in a vivid and poetic prose and the characters are fascinating.
If you decide to pick it up, and I hope you will, expect something intense.
Update, June 2017: The Devourers has won the 2017 Lambda Award for LGBT Scifi/Fantasy/Horror.
The author's website.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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