By Indra Das
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
I was drawn to THE DEVOURERS by the beautiful traditional illustration on the cover. Chris Panatier did the front and back cover illustration with ink and watercolor on board, and the full piece can be seen on his Deviantart. The lush, claustrophobic illustration pairs perfectly with the way the beauty of the story envelops you.
I found the opening of THE DEVOURERS somewhat disappointing. It seemed to be devoted to being overly edgy, with the narrator Alok meeting a man with a strange story of being a half-werewolf. Alok agrees to transcribe a set of scrolls for him, and starts with the story of Fenrir, a werewolf who rapes a human woman. Luckily, the novel brought up the exact objection I had and takes a turn into the story of Cyrah, the woman pregnant by a werewolf and determined to confront him with the beast of Gevaudan by her side.
I found Cyrah's tale the most compelling part of THE DEVOURERS. She makes tough decisions for complex reasons, and manages to have true empathy for her traveling companion. I enjoyed the way that she was able to suss out more of the werewolf culture and find a place for herself bargaining with Fenrir's transgression. She's a clever, determined woman who is allowed to be angry.
I found that the edginess of THE DEVOURERS evened out as I read. Gender and sexuality are explored through both the nature of these nonhuman creatures and the way they interact with humans. The gore is delightfully horrific, both repulsive and drawing on the human love of the macabre. There's also a lot to enjoy if you like explorations of different cultures, as both historical and modern non-Western human cultures come into play and each tribe of werewolves have their own cultures that shape the characters' behavior.
At first I thought THE DEVOURERS was going to disappoint me, another literary book with a faint layer of the supernatural as an excuse to be shocking. But the book grew on me and I fell under its lovely spell, to find out what happened to Cyrah, Gevaudan, her son, and Alok. And to be sure that Fenrir wasn't forgiven or redeemed.
Indra Das does use a very poetic style that might alienate some (as might the content), but it worked well for me. I also found that there was just enough difference in language between the narrators to make them clearly different people but not disrupt the tone. I certainly look forward to Das' next novel.