Monday, June 2, 2014

The Dark and Hollow Places: A Review

The Dark and Hollow Places
Written by: Carrie Ryan
Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Delacourte
Language: English
March 2011
Genre: Young Adult/Horror/Zombies

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.

But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?


When we read zombie fiction quite often the stories are all about the undead being the big bad. They are the evil, that thing driving our characters to make the decisions that they do. But the story that has always interested me and a reason why I love stories like World War Z and the Walking Dead is what happens after the world is decimated? How do people rebuild? How do they survive? And in surviving do we become the monsters? Sure the zombies are still there to push the story along, but it’s not really about them. You could easily insert a hundred different calamities and tell the same story. So yes there are monsters that want to kill you and while I love a good turn of horror, I really care about the characters. I care about how a disaster like this changes you. The dead may walk, but what about the living?

There has been something about the Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy that I have really loved. It has been about flawed characters trying to heal themselves, trying to find their place in a world that has become unfamiliar. They are trying to make connections with the little time that they may have left and try to see something other than the dust and decay. They want changes. They want hope. They want to survive.

I wonder how I would really face the zombie apocalypse. Sure I can say that a few years of playing shooter video games and meticulously planning my defense strategy would keep me alive. But would it really? Would I isolate myself or try and help others? Would I panic? Would the years of E and I target shooting help at all? Would I be curious about the undead? Would they be monsters or people? A lot to take in I know. And what if society found a way to stay safe, what would my role be in that society?

Annah is moving on. It’s been three years since Elias left her when it was only supposed to be two. The Dark City has nothing for her and it is getting more and more dangerous every day. It’s time to leave. But as she is leaving she spots a girl with her face. Granted she doesnt have the same scars has Annah does, scars caused by an unfortunate accident with barbed wire. Could it really be her long lost sister Abigail, a sister she thought she and Elias had left behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth over a decade ago? There hasn’t been a moment that Annah hasn’t thought about her sister, felt the guilt eat at her. When she tries to get to Abigail, her doppleganger helps a young man escape from the guards at the gates. She has to follow. She has to know if it is Abigail. But once you are outside of the Dark City, it isn’t quite as easy to get back inside. And what happened to the man that Abigail was trying to protect?

Things I loved: I like damaged characters. I can relate to them. Maybe that’s why I have liked each of the leads in Ryan’s books. They are flawed. They are broken in some way, but it doesn’t mean you can’t mend yourself. Some wounds heal, some scars fade. Annah is probably my favorite rather than Mary or Gabry. She has always kept everyone at arm’s length, first from guilt and then because she found herself ugly…how could anyone want to care for someone so obviously broken. She has been alone for longer than she cares to admit, abandoned by the one man she loved (Elias) over three years ago. But she is also a survivor. And that is why I love her. She could have just laid down, cuddled up in the corner and waited to die. But she didn’t even if it sounded so easy. She fought. She is always fighting. Whether is it is the demons inside or the Mudo and Guard, she is always fighting.

Catcher understands that struggle. Understands not only what it feels like to feel broken and damaged, but what it is like to fight every damn day. Catcher knows what it is like feeling like no one else understands, knows how it feels when you push everyone away in order to protect them. That is why they are perfect. Not that two damaged halves, make a mended whole, but you can try. Love and hope have the power to do amazing things. While it is unfortunate that Annah fell for both of her sister’s lovers, I felt the chemistry between Catcher and Annah and they are my favorite pairing. They work. They fit.

In the Dark City, the undead are not the only things you need to fear. The tunnels beneath the city are easy to get lost in, hunger is a problem faced by many, and sometimes the monsters are the living. As I said before, I like the people stories, the ones where you discover how far people are willing to go to survive. But is surviving enough when you become the monsters?

I have seen it many other zombie fiction tales, but those in power becoming the monsters. The Governor from Walking Dead had zombie fights, so did Romero’s Land of the Dead, and now The Dark and Hollow Places. Strange how the gladiator arena always keeps coming back in one form or another. And you don’t just have kick ass fighters doing their best not to become unconsecrated, but you have the sacrifice of innocents. Fiction keeps going back to it, I wonder why? To show the brutality of man? To show that cards and Parcheesi aren’t enough for entertainment? I can see it as a form of punishment, a form of keeping the masses not just entertained, but in line. I liked the inclusion in here.

I also liked the ‘bad guys’. In a way The Recruiters leader was like a pirate ship’s captain. You had rules. You broke the rules you were punished and since there are more of them than there are of you, you kept them happy. No one wants a mutiny. You need them more than they need you. But you give them order. You give them authority. You keep them in check. Of course nothing comes without a price. While yes the Recruiters may seem overly evil, but in a disaster like the Mudo there does seem to be one group of people that excels in the zombie apocalypse, a group where morality plays it fast and loose. But these people survive as they know their way around weapons, are completely willing to do the things that most will not do in order to survive, and is there really anyone around to tell them not to? We see it in other forms of zombie fiction (The Walking Dead) for example. So yes they may be it a bit one dimensional and we don’t really get to see the other side of survivors, but it worked for me as the story was being told.

Things I didn’t love so much: Some quick edits could have made the pacing a bit more even, but other than that I loved this one.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. The Forest has come full circle. Sure we mortals are flawed creatures, but we fight for life, we love, and we hope. Tomorrow is a new day even with the hordes outside your door.

Part of: Series

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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