Review – The Devourers

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
Synopsis from GoodReads:
On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

Somehow, this novel was both exactly what I was expecting based on the synopsis and completely different.  And I mean that in a good way.

I expected shape-shifters, some interesting mythological twists (esp. with Indian mythology and history), and passion/obsession.  All of which I got.  I also got an interesting allegory and discussion on gender and sex, gender roles, identity, and relationships.  Including some frank discussion of rape and how it effects the victim, the rapist, and the people who know them both.

The Devourers sucked me in and I found myself returning to it again and again, desiring to learn more, hating the way I was constantly pulled away from it by my responsibilities.  Das’s writing is beautiful and evocative, and his consistent use of first person regardless of the narrator deeply enhanced the underlying themes of the novel – predator and prey, identity and how it shifts, the people and events who shape you.

The beginning is a bit of a slow descent made harder for me, at least, by having to read from a rapist’s perspective fairly early on.  But of course the framing device then proceeds to discuss that very thing.  No absolute conclusions are provided, for that or for much of any of the philosophy contained in The Devourers, but Das acknowledges all of that in his novel, tying it into the conclusion main character Alok rushes towards throughout the modern-day events.

I will also warn that there is a lot of description of gore, bodily fluids of all types, and the like sprinkled throughout this book.  For me, most of that was held at a distance.  I was aware of it but it didn’t touch me.  Your mileage may vary and you know your reading tastes best.

I’m not really sure how else to describe this novel other than to say that I highly recommend it.  The writing is lovely, the characters speak to the sides of us that are monstrous, obsessive, and passionate, and the theme of identity should strike sparks within everyone.  Who, after all, can truly say that they are the same person they were 5, 10, 15, more years ago?

5 stars.  If you’re in the mood for something that uses werewolf and Indian mythology to talk about gender, identity, and relations, this book might just be for you.

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