Back home, Tara was the strange girl who read books at football games, who would rather study than socialize. Growing up in a trailer park, all she ever dreamed of was becoming a writer, someone whose stories mattered, Well, that’s not quite right. Tara wanted to be known. To be famous. To have her books published, read, and loved, to be admired and respected even beyond her death. She wanted to go to college and learn to write. Instead, she’s working as a janitorial assistant while she studies to become an English teacher, teaching students to admire someone else’s books. Tara’s even more alone at Corbin College than she was at home. There, at least, she had one friend. Here, it’s just … nothing. And then, Meredith dies.
Meredith was a member of Magni Viri, the secretive academic society Tara wanted to join. Magni Viri is the whole reason Tara came to Corbin College. Now, with Meredith’s death, Tara might just get everything she wanted as O’Connor, the director of Magni Viri, summons her. It turns out there’s a new opening and Tara’s just the person they’re looking to fill it.
All That Consumes Us leans heavily into atmosphere and mood; Tara’s isolation and loneliness, and her desperation to belong, to be part of something — even if just on the fringes. Tara isn’t exactly a nice person. She’s selfish, self-centered, and very reactionary. On being offered Meredith’s position, she’s delighted, with little thought for Meredith’s friends, who are now her friends, or Meredith’s roommate, who lives just down the hall. She’s constantly surprised that Meredith’s boyfriend isn’t delighted to be her friend. After all, she too was touched by Meredith, as she was one of those there when the body was found. It’s not that Tara is cruel or spiteful. She’s just in her own head (and so are we), and not overly concerned with other people until and unless they cross her path. Her flaws make her, in many ways, the perfect star of a ghost story, because she feels everything so deeply, obsesses so much over what others think of her, and makes all the plot necessary choices for perfectly selfish reasons. However, rather than change and grow as a character, Tara feels like just a leaf in the autumn wind being pulled along by the plot until the book ends.
The plot itself leans heavily on the dark academia vibe, and does it well, keeping the tension between magical realism, madness, and paranormal for much of the book. The first third is strong, the middle had some very interesting moments, and then the ending didn’t quite stick the landing for me. A lot of threads are left dangling, a lot of connections between characters are brought up and then dropped in favor of an easier path to the ending, and the ending itself felt like it belonged to a different book than what the first third was building towards.
The side characters and their reasons for being part of Magni Viri gave Meredith — and eventually Tara — a friend group with a wide array of diversity in background and sexuality. There’s Wren, who uses they/then pronouns and likes music; Azar, who is gay and excels at robotics; Jordan who is black; Neil who is straight; and Penny, Tara’s love interest, with a chronic pain condition. As a group, they mostly worked, but they felt there mostly to herd Tara along the path towards the answer.
The story had a meandering feel, for all that the pace moves along quickly and the writing flows smoothly. I was caught by the first third of the book and enjoyed the initial reveal of what was going on, but as the story continued, I found myself less invested in what was happening to Tara. It’s not that the story was poorly done, it’s just that for me the question of whether it is a ghost or madness was the fun part. The story answered that question so early on in the book that the eventual march to the end felt long and a little flat for me.
Horror has always been a tricky genre for me. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Like comedy, I think it’s going to be very subjective for each reader. If you give this book a chance, I hope you enjoy it! It’s very well put together with a lovely gothic flair, and will make for a fun autumn read.