This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
03.11.20 / Horror / Titan Books / Paperback / 368pp / 978-1789093308
Target Audience: Readers looking for a fascinating creepy horror adventure that mixes chilling and surreal moments with a charming friendly dynamic.
About The Hollow Places
PRAY THAT THEY ARE HUNGRY…
Kara finds the words in the mysterious bunker that she’s discovered behind a hole in the wall of her uncle’s house. Freshly divorced and living back at home, Kara now becomes obsessed with these cryptic words and starts exploring this peculiar area—only to discover that it holds portals to countless alternate realities. But these places are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts…and the more one fears them, the stronger they become.
With her distinctive “delightfully fresh and subversive” (SF Bluestocking) prose and the strange, sinister wonder found in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Hollow Places is a compelling and white-knuckled horror novel that you won’t be able to put down.
The Hollow Places Review
The Hollow Places is centred around Kara, who is recently divorced and hiding from her family after a gracious offer from her Uncle Earl to help run his museum of wonders. Kara knows the place, and all of its unusual items, curious taxidermy and nonsensical junk, like the back of her hand as she practically grew up there as a kid. Shortly after her arrival Earl takes some urgent and well deserved time off, leaving Kara in charge. In an act of what seems like vandalism, a wall is damaged and Kara recruits the barista next door Simon to help her fix it. Upon further exploration Kara believes she may have uncovered a secret wing to the museum, a place to spread out all of Earl wonderous (and possibly fake) exhibits.
That dream is dashed when the duo stumble on a long dead corpse in a room with a big metal door bolted shut from the inside. Kara and Simon decide to extend their search efforts and soon realise that the only real reason to bolt yourself in a room is to hide from what is on the other side. They both become lost and confused in a perilous edge world infested with huge soaring willow trees, haunted by the unbelievable, inconceivable scenes around them. All whilst being stalked by a mysterious boatman and creatures that hunt visitors amongst the willows. The only warnings they find are THEY CAN HEAR YOU THINKING and PRAY THAT THEY ARE HUNGRY etched in the wall of one of many bunkers that populate the terrain, standing as possible fortifications against whatever roams this land.
The Hollow Places is a terrific and surreal ode to many of the original pioneering horror stories, most notably Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, with some fascinating fantasy elements inspired by C.S Lewis’ Wood between the Worlds (another fictional element steeped in historical influences). T.K is upfront and detailed about her influences both in the novel and outside of it which, to me, shows real appreciation of the history of the genre and how that guided the story. I personally even got some Jumanji vibes during my read.
Upon finishing The Hollow Places I was definitely in two places. I enjoyed it immensely but at the same time I was also slightly disappointed. I was honestly expecting a really scary, disturbing and uncomfortable read. I wanted to be scared as its been so long since a novel has made me genuinely fear anything. There were some undeniably eerie moments where the tension was palpable and adrenaline was flowing. I most certainly have images scarred into my mind now, such as an emaciated man swimming in a pool of his own intestines, that will follow me for a long time.
So it wasn’t totally what I expected. But I had a great time with The Hollow Places. The scary elements are there and they are creative, inspired and incredibly surreal. But they are offset by the tone of this novel. The Hollow Places felt more to me like a goofy buddy adventure, told from a first person account, following Kara and her friend Simon on their unintentional trip beyond the veil of our world. The synopsis doesn’t reflect this but it was actually a really cool surprise and instead of being frightened, I was charmed by the interactions between these two interesting individuals.
The third act is actually pretty scary and it changes to the tone to what I was expecting in the first place but, in my opinion, it is a bit too late. The pacing was off just a little with the momentum that T.K built initially wearing off too early. The mixing of the casual and the horrific at a few inopportune moments felt like a misplacement of the shock potential but its not bad when I reflected on the characters.
Kara is a really satisfying protagonist, despite her obsession with relating everything back to graphic design, fan fiction and black mold. I liked how her experiences at the hands of the unknown blow her failed marriage out of the water and actually give her to chance to see her ex as the manipulative son of a gun he is (I think I got a little fixated on that aspect). I appreciated Kara outlook on events and her transformation of the course of the plot, as well as Simon with his helpful nature and dead twins eye, made The Hollow Places a worthwhile read.
I have tried to write around the events that take place beyond that door as they are as haunting as they are fascinating. I already feel like I’ve taken away from the story by saying it’s not scary but that is my own view. Someone else may lose their minds over what they find within these pages. I was just pleased with a well written tale of two people and a cat, way out of their depth, taking on the otherworldly forces that are bleeding into their reality. And drinking an inordinate amount of caffeine in the process. I enjoyed my time at Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy and the deep, dark secrets that hide within and I am happy to give it the highest of recommendations.
About T. Kingfisher
T. Kingfisher is the adult fiction pseudonym of Ursula Vernon, the Hugo Award-winning author of Digger and Dragonbreath. Perhaps best known for her children’s fiction, she is an author and illustrator based in North Carolina who has been nominated for the Ursa Major Award, the Eisner Awards, and has won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “Jackalope Wives” in 2015 and the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for “the Tomato Thief” in 2017.