I never give a book five stars, but when I read one that combines all my literary loves–environmental fiction, philosophical horror, and just plain weirdness–I have to gush. A five-star book impresses me with an original plot or set of characters, includes a social commentary that makes me think, disgusts/surprises me at least once, and has me planning when I can read next. I assign an additional half-star to a book if, when reading it, I, who never cries, feel verklempt or blink rapidly when a normal person would. The Hollow Kingdom and its sequel, Feral Creatures, are two five-star books.
I bought Hollow Kingdom for Mikey years ago during the height of the pandemic. The book, an environmental parable featuring a domesticated crow reentering the natural world following an apocalyptic event, seemed the right blend of quirky, gruesome, and thought-provoking.
“Perfect to read during a pandemic,” I quipped as I handed him the book wrapped in plastic and carrying the subtle scent of sanitizer. “Just don’t focus too much on the extinction of the human species.” I was right. Mikey loved it and encouraged me to read it, which I did almost three years later. Hollow Kingdom won some awards but was mainly quietly enjoyed, which makes me love it only more. The gatekeeping hipster in me ages but never dies.
Here is where I dispense my usual disclaimers. My taste in books hasn’t changed. I am the same reader who loved Bones and All and Suffer the Children, the only book to ever give me nightmares. I wrote about my tastes in books here, and I stand by the results of my navel-gazing. Philosophical horror succinctly describes what I like to read. If you liked Bones and All (despite the new movie cover), you will like Hollow Kingdom. (Oh, and All the Light We Cannot See did get better, but Cloud Cuckoo Land was a masterpiece.)
The gore in Hollow Kingdom is there but infrequent for an apocalyptic book; it plays a secondary part. True zombie-fiction fans will be disappointed. S.T. is a foul-mouthed crow and has the name to prove it. At first, the language felt a little forced, but after the first few chapters, I either stopped noticing it, or the plot and dialogue among the characters took over. I suspect it’s the latter. You can watch a trailer for the book here, or listen to an excerpt below. It’s not how S.T.’s voice sounds in my head, but I don’t hate it, either. Give my latest five-star books a chance. Who knows when I will read another one? Enjoy!
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