Review of Carrie Ryan's "The Dark and Hollow Places"
Kindle Copy/Nook Copy
*****SPOILER WARNING: READ REVIEW ONLY IF YOU'VE READ BOOKS 1& 2 OF THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH TRILOGY************
Disclaimer: I strongly urge people to still consider reading anything that I might review negatively because you might hold a different opinion! Its part of the conversation that is important with all art.
While excitedly reaching the conclusion, I had to ponder whether or not this book was still mainly about zombies. Now, don't get me wrong, there is enough frightful zombie action to make any reader feel uneasy. At the same time, the main portion of this book seemed to revolve more around a convoluted love triangle of sorts. In the last book, we were introduced to Gabry, the spunky twin segregated from her sister, when both Annie and Gabry (formerly Abigail, before being renamed "Gabry") were escaping the woods that had been infested with zombies. Annie and Elias regrettably left her alone to fend for herself and traveled to the Dark City, which is one of the few standing metropolises within this depreciated world. This is the state of the world after the famed "Return," an indescribable apocalyptic event that many of the characters cannot quite define clearly because the torn world is a much more immediate reality than the supposed blissful one before everything went insane with the whole virile pathogen thing spawning legions of zombies who turn other people into mindless zombies. (They are impervious to "Love Triangle" woes)
While the first book remains my favorite, the second one paled in comparison because the newly introduced characters were not nearly as interesting. More importantly, the pacing was limited by my decreased interest in the fate of these characters. Overall, I'm very ambivalent about the third book, which presumably is the conclusion to a trilogy of books that never clearly worked as a trilogy. I feel like both books two and three are telling a completely different tale than "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," as they involve a slew of different characters;therefore, its more appropriate to treat The Dark and Hollow Places as the direct sequel to The Dead Tossed Waves. At the beginning of The Dark and Hollow Places,we are introduced finally to Annah, Gabry's twin sister, who was only alluded to in the last book by Elias (who has questionable ties to the morally-corrupt Recruiters). The first twenty or so pages were disappointingly dry because I initially detested Annie's character for all of her endless self-loathing, and I still do for being petty/static throughout the book. Maybe, its better for Gabry's sanity, if this whiny monster of a sister never reunites with her. She is very similar to another awful character in a terrible movie called Melancholia. Sadly, we don't get anyone else's perspective, but the insufferable Annah...... This is why I like books with multiple perspectives, so we can have a sanity break from some unlikable characters.
While it is understandable that a large scar across a person's face might affect their self-esteem, wouldn't it be normal for many people in a zombie apocalypse to have gruesome scars on their bodies from dangerous wounds? For the first half of the book, we are repeatably reminded of the Annie's woeful internal struggle to not think of herself as ugly, all due to some conspicuous scar across her beautiful face. Even the whole bit about leaving her sister behind, I understand the weight of grief caused through that trauma, but to fret about the scar as much as that event makes this character a bit conceited. Come on, Belle in Beauty and the Beast would show this girl a thing or two about how not to be so vain, even Madeline found ways to admire her appendix scar on her stomach. Already, I was really beginning to be a little annoyed with Annah's character. While the earlier two books had occurrences where the lead female characters were whiny, they also dealt with it and were even aware of it. Inexplicably, Annah seems even more static after the first fifty pages or so, the reader is never quite sure if she wants to be strong or wholly dependent upon the new strong, magnetic male character who enters the scene, strangely named Catcher. (He involves Annah in a newfound romance. He loves Annah, regardless of her monstrous scar, just like Edward loved Bella unconditionally for her tragic clumsiness. Again, people are literally dying all around Annah and she annoyingly worries about recognition from two equally hot men, and cosmetic concerns..................)
In the first book, the human drama was really well fleshed out, the main female character might have had her angst moments, but Carrie Ryan meticulously developed this angst to serve as the means for the character to naturally grow, not just an excuse for multiple pages of endless venting with no purpose. Basically,I felt that the author was a bit more careful in her approach to the melodramatic moments in that book. The zombie metaphor was meant to be an unthinkable escape from the laborious quality of human drama. Their place was seen as something enviable, but the dramatic crap that occurs within our life though also makes our life richer, and well worth living. Zombies, or the unconsecrated in this book were viewed as the manifestation of a form of life that is neither defined as dead or live, according to our existential standards. Within this book, the contrast between the "unconsecrated (zombies)" and the living is a bit muddled because the book loses so much focus when it becomes exclusively focused on the "Love Triangle." As Annah learns more truth about the moral corruption of the Recruiters, she starts to greatly doubt any former feelings that she had for Elias, a member of the primeval Recruiters. As a result, she begins to have feelings for Catcher, who is immune from the zombie pathogen, but still is a carrier of the disease. Seeing that the divine Elias has been rejected by Annah, Gabry becomes a bit more assertive in trying to win Elias' favor. I don't blame Elias for loving her more, not when Annah wants everyone to focus on her scar and classify her as "ugly." None of these characters really have any time to focus on the scar. It it Annah who keeps holding the story back with the unresolved crisis of her pettiness. The scar angst is just very overdone, and the grief resulting from it is so overblown that it doesn't feel very realistic.
All this drama takes place on the last remaining piece of land, separate from the city that has been completely devastated by a zombie invasion. This is the "Sanctuary," where all the greedy Recruiters selfishly cordon themselves off from the all the other parts of the world. In this symbolic "Arc" of sorts, there is definitely some rich flashes of the horror surrounding the depraved state of humanity, ideologically corrupted by the acute sense that the zombie apocalypse renders our moral senses obsolete. Insufferably, the reader is also forced to read more pages of very repetitious angst juxtaposed to these wonderful scenes of horror. I have nothing against angst, but I felt that it was a grim reminder of the camping scenes in Deathly Hallows. With the book about to end, there is less material to work with, thus it seems Carrie Ryan decides to agonizingly prolong the love-triangle angst. Within many of these groan-worthy scenes, I started to realize why people complain about the excessive amounts of love triangles present in young-adult fiction. When they were done successfully in some YA books like "The Hunger Games trilogy" or even Carrie Ryan's first two books in this series, I was perfectly fine with them. Now, I'm starting to grow very weary of them, as the love triangle in this book is very contrived, and annoying. There were points of the book, when I just wanted the zombies to breach the "holy sepulcher of love triangle drama," and kill some of these characters. Yes, its a bit fiendish, but the overwrought love triangle drama in this book contributes nothing to the story, except to add to the word count. It didn't help that Catcher even repeated some of Edward Cullen's lines, when rebuking Annah to stay away from him because he's dangerous. Then, she willfully uses the "Scar Card," again and drags down the plot once again when she sulks over the lack of attention people give her. (The negative attention is all in her mind; she's just a Grade-A manipulative whiner....) She even acts weirdly jealous over her sister, when seeing her for the first time in many years. It is grating to see a character run away from her sister, after not seeing her for many years, just because her sister is the unscathed "Barbie" of the family. Is this ever developed thoroughly? No, its just another sequence in the obnoxious drama of Annah's imagined "scar plight."
Its a pity that this final book is very lackluster, and I feel bad shredding it apart critically. Except, the first book and even the second were vastly superior in my opinion. Carrie Ryan is definitely a very talented writer, and there were some truly horrific scenes that had me tearing my eyes away from the Kindle screen. Knowing how good the first two are, it was really disappointing to see this book become trapped in the "love triangle" mire that has plagued other young-adult books. I still can't finish the Vampire Academy books because after Book 3, the drama weirdly became very obnoxious. (Admittedly, I struggled to read Book 4, and have never gotten past there.. Does it get better in Book 5?) If I read Richelle Mead books, I stick with the Succubus or Dark Swan series. You cannot just place drama in a book for the sake of drama, unless you want your book to suffer from Harry Potter "camping scene" syndrome (JK Rowling's method of preserving the expectation for the books to be long). By the end of the final "Forest of Hands and Teeth," book, you'll be delighted to know that the love triangle torture does eventually end, and the ending of the book serves as a reminder of Carrier Ryan's skill as a writer. It was powerfully grim, and a sobering reminder of the vast mystery of our lives. Outside of Annah, there was a lot of great development surrounding the apocalyptic scenario. This was the best part of the book, and the series overall; the difficult struggle of seeking hope in such hopeless insanity. I still highly recommend this series because the first book is one of my favorite YA horror novels, and even the second has some very interesting concepts to explore. While the conclusion lacks the great pacing and sharp plotting of the first two, the conclusion still offers some very intriguing philosophical questions.
If you missed the link above, here is Madeline's Response to Annah's Facial scar Angst: