Title: Donners of the Dead
Author: Karina Halle
Format: eBook, owned
My rating: 4 / 5
***A Standalone Horror Romance***
A note about this book: Donners of the Dead is set in 1851 – couples were often thrust into marriage together with short courtships, racism was widespread and not overly frowned upon, and women had little to no rights. What wouldn't fly in today's day and age was unfortunately the norm back then - it is worth keeping that in mind when reading this book.
Jake McGraw was unlike anyone I’d ever known. He was brash, rude, unapologetic and arrogant; chauvinistic, close-minded, and terribly stubborn. He was built like a tree, tall with a hard chest and wide shoulders and hands that looked like they could wrestle a bear. He was a cigar-chomping, scruffy-faced, beast of a man. I was pretty sure I hated him. And I know he hated me. But among the flesh-eating monsters in these snow-capped mountains, he was the only thing keeping me alive
The year is 1851 and pioneers in search of California gold are still afraid to travel on the same route as the tragic Donner party did years before. When the last wagon train to go into the Sierra Nevada mountains fails to arrive at their destination, Eve Smith, an 18-year old half-native girl with immense tracking skills is brought along with the search party, headed by an enigmatic former Texas Ranger, Jake McGraw.
What they find deep in the dangerous snow-covered terrain is a terrifying consequence of cannibalism, giving new meaning to the term “monster.” While the search party is slowly picked off, one by one, Eve must learn to trust Jake, who harbors more than a few secrets of his own, in order to survive and prevent the monstrosities from reaching civilization.
***This is NOT New Adult***
-- As seen on Goodreads
"There are only monsters inside of angels and angels inside of monsters. Choose wisely.”
In each book Karina Halle writes, in particular her horror novels, there are usually a couple of scenes that are etched into your brain and will refuse to leave long after you finish the book, and Donners of the Dead is no exception. It takes her usual level of horror and adds zombies and stomach-churning cannibalism in all its gory glory.
This book chilled me to the bone, and I think it’s some of her most terrifying writing yet. I love when an author takes a topic and completely runs with it and doesn’t hold back on anything.
Eve Smith is our narrator for this terrifying read. She is a half-native American, half-white young woman of eighteen, who has been entrusted into the care of her Aunt and Uncle after the disappearance of her father, and the mental breakdown of her mother. In a time when women were barely tolerated, let alone a woman who is deemed a “half-breed”, she has to deal with the horrendous injustices of racism and sexism on a daily basis. This really stuck out in my mind: she isn’t allowed to attend school, and this hurts her deeply as her cousin, who has little interest in gaining knowledge, attends daily.
I felt a sharp pang of envy in my chest, something I often felt when I thought about my cousin. It wasn’t that she was beautiful and polite, but that she was able to go to school every day and I never was.
All I’d ever wanted to do was learn, to fill my mind with knowledge and wisdom, while Rose seemed to abhor everything about learning, except when it came to the piano.
I think her struggles were portrayed really well, and nothing was sugar coated. I like that the romanticism and idealism that often hangs over historically set novels isn’t showing its ugly head. Life could suck back then, especially if you were a woman. A maybe-negative: The dialogue is a bit on the modern side. This could potentially irritate some, but it worked for me personally as I don’t enjoy Ye Olden Speech – unless it’s Pride and Prejudice, then I’m all mushy.
Jake McGraw's character starts off, in short, as an arrogant, chauvinistic asshole, yet with the way he is portrayed as the story progresses, you could see that there is a lot more to him that what firsts meets the eye. I liked the romantic element that was woven into the horror, but it never overshadowed the story, just enhanced it.
"We’re still human even in the face of beasts, even with our lives at risk. When you’re close to death, love is sometimes the only thing that makes sense in life.”
Karina is champion of balancing all the different elements and plotlines within her stories. Everything happens at the right moment, it flows naturally and nothing if forced upon us. The epilogue was written exactly how I prefer epilogues to be written. It wasn’t drawn out and didn’t introduce unnecessary twists, keeping in line with what was naturally progressing with the characters’ lives at the books end.
I gave this book a four star rating, even though I do think it could deserve a lot more. This is purely because Karina is competing with her other books in my mind. Did I think Jake and Eve’s story matched or exceeded Dex and Perry’s from the Experiment in Terror series, or Camden and Ellie’s story in the Artists Trilogy? To me, it didn’t. I gave both of these a five star rating, so I feel to keep my ratings a little bit consistent, a four star rating more accurately describes my overall feelings toward the characters, and therefore, the book.