Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Date of publication: April 25th, 2023
Genre: Horror, Young Adult, LGBT, Queer, Lesbian, Thriller, Mystery, Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery Thriller
Trigger Warnings: Alcohol consumption by minors, Anxiety disorders (mentioned), Blood, Gore, Body Horror, Cannibalism, Captivity, Confinement, Dead bodies, body parts, Deadnaming, Death of a grandparent, Death of a sibling, drugging, drug use, fire, grief, loss, gun violence, intrusive thoughts, murder, needles, syringes, nightmares, parental neglect, pandemic, scars, sexism, suicidal ideation, transphobia
Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCake
Four best friends, one music festival, and a cooler filled with human organs: this summer is about to get gory.
Jennifer’s Body fans will clamor for this new sapphic horror standalone from New York Times bestselling author Kayla Cottingham.
Three years ago, the melting of arctic permafrost released a pathogen of unknown origin into the atmosphere, causing a small percentage of people to undergo a transformation that became known as the Hollowing. Those impacted slowly became intolerant to normal food and were only able to gain sustenance by consuming the flesh of other human beings. Those who went without flesh quickly became feral, turning on their friends and family. However, scientists were able to create a synthetic version of human meat that would satisfy the hunger of those impacted by the Hollowing. As a result, humanity slowly began to return to normal, albeit with lasting fear and distrust for the people they’d pejoratively dubbed ghouls.
Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine are all ghouls living in Southern California. As a last hurrah before their graduation they decided to attend a musical festival in the desert. They have a cooler filled with hard seltzers and SynFlesh and are ready to party.
But on the first night of the festival Val goes feral, and ends up killing and eating a boy. As other festival guests start disappearing around them the girls soon discover someone is drugging ghouls and making them feral. And if they can’t figure out how to stop it, and soon, no one at the festival is safe.
When my parents asked if I wanted a Mini Cooper for graduation, I didn’t think ahead to whether or not it would have enough trunk space to accommodate my cooler full of organs.This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham
Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine are preparing to attend a desert music festival. This event is a big deal for them because they were infected with a pathogen three years earlier, which turned them into ghouls. They all rely on synthetic meat to satisfy their hunger, which keeps them from going feral (and turning back into ghouls). But ghouls are feared, and the girls are monitored constantly. So, taking this trip is a big deal to them. But, on the first night, Valeria goes feral, killing and eating a boy. After investigating why Valeria went feral, the girls make a surprising discovery: someone is drugging ghouls and causing them to go feral. With other guests going missing and the National Guard on their way to round up the ghouls, the girls must find out who is behind it and why. But, what they discover is just the tip of something much bigger than what they realized. Can they stop the people behind it? Can they retain their humanity?
I had initially seen This Delicious Death floating around the blogosphere. I liked the blurb for the book and made it a point to put it on my short list of books I want to read. Then I got an email from NetGalley saying they had the book on a limited Read Now for the first 500 people. I made sure that I immediately downloaded it. I can’t even begin to express how excited I was about this. The funny thing about this is that I am terrified of any zombie movie/tv show/book—I legit freak out. So I was curious how I would react when reading This Delicious Death. I didn’t have the reaction I thought, and I loved it!!
This Delicious Death has numerous trigger/content warnings. The author kindly lists everything at the beginning of the book. They are:
- Alcohol Consumption by Minors: Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine drink constantly throughout the book. They are served at bars set up at the festival also.
- Anxiety Disorders: It is mentioned throughout the book that Celeste and Zoey have anxiety. Also, Jessica and Valeria have anxiety because of what they went through during the Hollowing.
- Blood: There is a lot of blood in this book. Seeing that it is a zombie book, I would have been surprised if there wasn’t blood.
- Gore: There is a lot of gore throughout This Delicious Death. The explicit scenes happen during each girl’s flashback to the Hollowing, Cole’s flashback, Valeria’s feral scenes, and the scenes in Facility B.
- Body Horror: There are quite a few scenes where the author graphically describes the girls eating synthetic organs and meat. There are also scenes where the author details the girls (in their flashbacks) killing and eating people. There are scenes towards the end of the book where the girls watch a ghoul (called the anthropophagi) kill and eat a boy in front of them.
- Cannibalism: The girls need to eat human flesh so they don’t become ghouls. It is graphically detailed throughout the book.
- Captivity: Celeste and Zoey are captured and held at two different facilities while they are ghouls. The anthropophagi are held captive in Facility B. While at the festival, Celeste, Jasmine, and Zoey are in their cabin.
- Confinement: Zoey was confined to a facility for months longer than Celeste. Valeria was confined to her house and then her room during the onset of the pandemic. The four girls are confined to their cabin before going to Facility B and after the events at Facility B.
- Dead Bodies: There are dead bodies throughout the book. Some, the girls caused (in their flashbacks and present day), and others, they stumbled upon.
- Body Parts: The girls must eat organs and body parts to satisfy their ghouls. Different body parts appear once ghouls start getting drugged and the anthropophagi are removed from Facility B.
- Deadnaming: Celeste (who is trans) is almost deadnamed at a party after the Hollowing. The author stopped short of having that person say what her male name was.
- Death of a grandparent: Jasmine’s grandmother was killed after she turned. Jasmine and her younger brother left when her grandmother started tearing up her bedroom.
- Death of a sibling: Cole killed and ate his older sister while she was on Facebook Live with her boyfriend (who was also Cole’s bandmate). Cole never recovered from doing that.
- Drugging: Celeste and Zoey were drugged during their capture. Zoey was drugged constantly during her captivity. Valeria was drugged at a bar, turned feral, and killed the boy she was with. His bandmates drugged Cole towards the end of the book, and he went feral.
- Drug Use: I think that drugs were used recreationally by other festival-goers. I don’t believe that the girls (or Cole) used drugs.
- Fire: A fire was deliberately set in Facility B at the end of the book.
- Grief: Both Celeste and Zoey grieve the deaths of the hunter and camp counselor they killed and ate. Jasmine grieves that she has scarred her brother for life. Valeria grieves what she did to survive. Cole grieves what he did to his sister.
- Loss: Each of the main characters experienced loss. There is too much to go into, but the author covers each person individually in their flashbacks and the present day.
- Gun Violence: In flashbacks, a hunter holds Celeste and Zoey at rifle point, and Zoey is shot. Present day, Celeste is shot by a National Guardsman while distracting them from seeing Zoey and Jasmine going after Valeria.
- Intrusive Thoughts: Zoey is tortured by what she did while a ghoul and thinks about suicide. Cole is also tormented by what he did.
- Murder: Zoey and Celeste murder their camp counselor and the hunter. Jasmine murders the white supremacist couple that was threatening her brother. Valeria murders the star football player in a scuffle over a corpse. Valeria murders the boy she was with at the bar. Cole murders his sister.
- Needles: Zoey is given medication through her neck with a needle while confined. Celeste takes her hormones with needles. Jasmine gives Valeria the antidote with a needle to the neck.
- Syringes: See above.
- Nightmares: All four girls suffer from nightmares from what they did while they were ghouls. The same goes for Cole.
- Parental Neglect: Zoey’s parents refuse to have anything to do with her after she returns home. Her parents are terrified of her. She is painfully aware of that.
- Pandemic: The Hollowing is caused by a pathogen released by melting polar ice caps. That sets off a worldwide pandemic of ghouls.
- Scars: The girls and Cole have mental scars from their Hollowing.
- Sexism: The lead singer of the band that Cole is in is sexist. He makes several remarks during the book that set me on edge.
- Suicidal Ideation: Zoey and Cole have thoughts about suicide during the book. This is directly related to what they went through during the Hollowing.
- Transphobia: Celeste is trans (male to female). She is afraid to tell her followers (she is an influencer) because of the transphobic backlash. There is a small moment of transphobia at a party she is at with Valeria and Zoey, but Jasmine stops it.
This is a lengthy list. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book.
The main storyline of This Delicious Death centers around the four girls (Zoey, Celeste, Jasmine, and Valeria), their trip to the festival, the mystery of who is behind drugging the ghouls and why, and the girls’ backstories. Let’s start with the backstories first. The author gave each girl a smallish chapter explaining how they became ghouls. It was heartbreaking in all cases because of how young they were. They were all around 15 years old, and they were all in different parts of California. The author details what they did to survive and sometimes did it explicitly. But those chapters were sprinkled throughout the book. The main focus was on Valeria going feral and why. I loved how the girls went about their investigations. They were resourceful with their limitations. Because they were ghouls, they were not allowed to go beyond certain boundaries. Once they discovered the drug, it was a search for who and why. It was a very twisty investigation, and I was surprised at what the girls turned up. I wasn’t surprised at who was behind it (because I had an idea it was those people).
The main characters (Celeste, Zoey, Jasmine, and Valeria) were well-written and multifaceted. I liked that they were diverse, but at the same time, they weren’t (if that makes sense). I liked that each girl brought their personality to the story. Even when they were fighting, which they did quite a bit of in the middle of the book, they were still respectful of each other and watched out for each other. It was watching out for each other that eventually paved the way to the ending events of the book.
The romance angle of the book was well played out. You knew what Zoey’s feelings were for Celeste since page one. She was in love with her. But she wasn’t sure how Celeste felt about Zoey, and the author kept it that way until the end of the book. I wasn’t sure if I liked the almost romance between Zoey and Cole, mainly because it didn’t feel right.
The mystery angle of This Delicious Death was wonderfully written. The author had me guessing who drugged Valeria and the other ghouls. I liked how the girls did their investigations and ended up at Facility B. But how they tied everything together (with Cole’s help) and decided to get the antidote to the drug and rescue Valeria made the book!!
I was almost unreasonably angry with Zoey’s parents. Finding out your kid had been changed into a flesh-eating monster was soul-shattering. But to let her languish in that detention center and treat her like dirt when she got out was awful. For three years, she raised herself while her parents made themselves scarce. At least she had a parent in Celeste’s mom. Speaking of Celeste’s mom, she was the MVP of the entire book. She was one of the most accepting, down-to-earth, loving people ever!! I was jealous of Celeste.
An interesting secondary storyline involved Cole’s stepfather, the drug he tested out, and ghouls that went crazy. There was a point in the book where I wondered if the author would explain the background of the anthropophagi. I wasn’t expecting the horrible backstory to that, though. I also didn’t expect Cole’s stepfather to develop a conscience about his actions and create an antidote.
The end of This Delicious Death was gripping and heartbreaking. I expected everything to go down differently than it did. I’m not going to go much more into it other than that.
I would recommend This Delicious Death to anyone over 21. There is violence, language, and nongraphic sexual situations. Also, see the very long list of triggers above.
Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire, NetGalley, and Kayla Cottingham for allowing me to read and review This Delicious Death. All opinions stated in this review are mine.
If you enjoyed reading this review of This Delicious Death, then you will enjoy reading these books:
Other books by Kayla Cottingham: