Book Review: Hollow Kingdom

Hollow KingdomHollow Kingdom
by Kira Jane Buxton
Apocalyptic Fiction
308 pages
Published August 2019

As a rule, I prefer my apocalypse fiction sans zombies. Which is a little odd, given how much I love my lady necromancer books. But something about uncontrolled hordes of zombies gives me nightmares, almost every time.

Hollow Kingdom is a rare exception. In a way, that’s logical; this is NOT your average zombie apocalypse story! For one, it’s told from the viewpoint of a crow. While it’s possible he could be killed by a zombie, he’s not going to get turned into one. As they explain in the book, this is an evolutionary change, not a contagious virus-like change. Which is another way in which it’s different than normal zombies. The book also focuses on S.T. (it’s short for Shit Turd!) and his bloodhound companion, Dennis, trying to survive in the new world, rather than your average survivors-fighting-off-zombies and trying not to get turned themselves.

It also might just be the sardonic humor with which S.T. views the world. He calls humans “MoFos” because that’s what his owner called other humans. Most other animals call them Hollows because they can’t access the Aura – a kind of communication network that animals can tap into to talk to one another.

S.T. is an incredible character, straddling the human and animal worlds and not quite belonging in either. He flits across Seattle, searching for answers to what has befallen the MoFos, hitting various popular landmarks (my Friday 56 addresses his visit to Pike Place Market!) and encountering a huge variety of animals in his journey. Every animal has their own personality; it’s incredibly well done.

The author attempts world-building; there are a couple of seemingly random, very brief chapters detailing the experiences of other animals in wildly different locations, but the book is mostly based in Seattle with S.T. and his friends. It only detracts from the story a very minor amount; the characterization of S.T., Dennis, Kraai, Ghubari, and many others are where the story shines.

I honestly loved this book. I picked it up despite the plotline, because it was told from the viewpoint of a crow, and I love crows. I’m so glad I did, because this is really, really excellent, and there are so few zombie stories I will say that about!

From the cover of Hollow Kingdom:

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures. He spends his days hanging out with his owner, Big Jim; avoiding the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis; trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows; binge-watching nature documentaries; and binge-eating the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos®.

Then, on a beautiful summer evening, Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. When his tried-and-true remedies – from beak-delivered beer to an inventive cocktail of stolen pharmacy drugs – fail to bring Big Jim back to health, S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out with his trusty steed, Dennis, to find a cure.

Outside the safety of his home, the city of Seattle is a wild and frightening new world. Big Jim’s neighbors, victims of the same mysterious malady, are now devouring everything warm-blooded in their path, and the once orderly suburbs have become feral jungles. Meanwhile, local wildlife is abuzz with cryptic rumors, which the cowardly S.T. has no choice but to follow if he wants to rescue the only world he knows from certain destruction.

Brimming with hope and heart, this irrepressible debut introduces humanity’s improbable hero in the form of a foulmouthed crow with a moderate-to-severe junk food addiction, who believes that – despite all its flaws – the world is worth saving.

Book Review: The Bees

the beesThe Bees
by Laline Paull
Fiction
340 pages
Published 2014

I was cautiously optimistic about this book, because I’d heard good things about it, but really? Bees? An entire book from the viewpoint of a worker bee? Even fictionalized, how much material is there really to work with?

SO MUCH.

My fears were completely ungrounded because this book is AMAZING. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, tasked with taking dead bodies out of the hive, cleaning up wax cells after new bees have hatched, and other duties to keep the hive clean. Somewhat extraordinarily, it is discovered that she can produce the liquid needed to feed bee larva, and is taken to serve in the nursery for a bit, where she starts to develop a mind of her own.

As Flora develops new abilities and works her way through the ranks of the hive, we start to learn that something in the governing of the hive is not quite what it should be. Something is wrong. But the strictly enforced castes and other outside factors, like weather and predators, delay Flora’s quest to ferret it out.

Between lying wasps, conniving spiders, and a conspiracy within the ranks of her own hive, Flora bounces from danger to danger trying to protect what she loves in an engrossing story of bravery and sacrifice.

I absolutely loved this book. I especially liked that anywhere possible, actual bee behavior was described and used to further the plot. This is definitely one of my favorite reads this year!

From the cover of The Bees:

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous. 

But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all – daring to challenge the Queen’s preeminence – enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive’s strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society – and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds.

Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.

Book Review: And The Ocean Was Our Sky

and the ocean was our skyAnd The Ocean Was Our Sky
by Patrick Ness
Illustrated by Rovina Cai
Fantasy
160 pages
Published September 2018

I’ve seen the movie based on Patrick Ness’s previous book, A Monster Calls, but I haven’t actually read the book. I definitely see similarities in style between the two stories, though. The blurb calls it “lyrical” and “haunting” but I’d call them both trippy.

In And The Ocean Was Our Sky, the story is told from the viewpoint of Bathsheba, a whale. In her world, whales and humans have been at war as long as she can remember. Whales have learned the human language, and how to build ships and use harpoons. (Though how they actually DO these things with flippers is never explained. Just suspend disbelief and go with it.)

I think the hardest thing to wrap my mind around was the whales have an inverted view of gravity. To them, the human world of air is called the Abyss, and it lives below them. The ocean is, well, their sky, as the title says. Bathsheba mentions the dizzying moment when she breaches and the world turns on its axis as gravity changes around her. When the whales talk of swimming up, they mean deeper into the ocean, or down, to us.

It’s a crazy, inverted, fantastical world, and you just have to go with it. The illustrations both help and confuse further, but I think the fever-dream feel of it is intentional.

Bathsheba and her pod are hunters of men, and they come across a sign from Toby Wick. (You know, instead of Moby Dick.) Toby Wick is a devil in the eyes of both men and whales, and Bathsheba’s captain, Captain Alexandra, resolves to hunt him down once and for all and rid the oceans of his menace. On the way, Bathsheba talks to their human captive and learns not all men are hunters, and they have dreams and fears just like whales do. Disturbed, she begins to question her own morality, and what makes someone a devil.

The book is a quick read at 160 pages, probably half of which are full-page illustrations. But it is magical and surreal and well worth reading.

From the cover of And The Ocean Was Our Sky:

CALL ME BATHSHEBA.

With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt. Led by the formidable, dangerous Captain Alexandra, they fight in the ongoing war against the world of men. So it has been, so it always shall be. 

When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself . . . .

Now, with their relentless Captain leading the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men.

From the inimitable author of A Monster Calls comes a dark, lyrical, harrowing tale, hauntingly illustrated, that flips a classic story of violent obsession on its head with heart-stopping questions of power, loyalty, and the monsters we make.

Book Review: Love Saves the Day

love saves the dayLove Saves the Day
by Gwen Cooper
Fiction
314 pages
Published 2013

This book was heartbreaking and lovely. I definitely cried at several points in the book; Prudence’s confusion at her owner never coming home and having to live with her owner’s daughter is poignant and tearjerking. I am owned by a rather strong-willed cat, myself, and  many of Prudence’s behaviors reminded me of my own Boudicca. (Sleeping beside me and reaching out one paw so we’re touching in our sleep is something I thought was peculiar to her until reading this book!)

The strained relationship between mother and daughter is also something I can identify with.

I had planned to spend next year reading books told from the viewpoints of animals – I’m not sure why this one snuck in this year, but I’m glad it did, because I absolutely adore this book. Some people might think it unrealistic that Prudence understands human speech, but at times I’m pretty sure Boudicca understands every word I’m saying, so I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility!

Boudicca

Boudicca, asleep on my pillow

I love how Prudence and Laura learn to live together, and eventually to mourn their mother and begin to heal. The book is a lovely example of what a pet can bring to a home. I know my cat has kept me sane through some very trying times; when my husband was in the Marines, he was away for many months at a time. The separations after we got Boudicca were far easier than the ones before. I felt a lot more sane carrying on conversations with a cat than with empty air!

Love Saves the Day, despite the sappy name, is a beautiful book. Just keep a pile of tissues handy!

(This book is my pick for PopSugar’s prompt “favorite prompt from the last three years of challenges” – my favorite prompt is “book with a cat on the cover!”)

From the cover of Love Saves the Day:

Humans best understand the truth of things if they come at it indirectly. Like how sometimes the best way to catch a mouse that’s right in front of you is to back up before you pounce.”

So notes Prudence, the irresistible brown tabby at the center of Gwen Cooper’s tender, joyful, utterly unforgettable novel, which is mostly told through the eyes of this curious (and occasionally cranky) feline.

When five-week-old Prudence meets a woman named Sarah in a deserted construction site on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, she knows she’s found the human she was meant to adopt. For three years their lives are filled with laughter, tuna, catnaps, music, and the unchanging routines Prudence craves. Then one day Sarah doesn’t come home. From Prudence’s perch on the windowsill she sees Laura, the daughter who hardly ever comes to visit Sarah, arrive with her new husband. They’re carrying boxes. Before they even get to the front door, Prudence realizes that her life has changed forever.

Suddenly Prudence finds herself living in a strange apartment with humans she barely knows. It could take years to train them in the feline courtesies and customs (for example, a cat should always be fed before the humans, and at the same exact time every day) that Sarah understood so well. Prudence clings to the hope that Sarah will come back for her while Laura, a rising young corporate attorney, tries to push away memories of her mother and the tumultuous childhood spent in her mother’s dusty downtown record store. But the secret joys, past hurts, and life-changing moments that make every mother-daughter relationship special will come to the surface. With Prudence’s help Laura will learn that the past, like a mother’s love, never dies.

Poignant, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny, Love Saves the Day is a story of hope, healing, and how the love of an animal can make all of us better humans. It’s the story of a mother and daughter divided by the turmoil of bohemian New York, and the opinionated, irrepressible feline who will become the bridge between them. It’s a novel for anyone who’s ever lost a loved one, wondered what their cat was really thinking, or fallen asleep with a purring feline nestled in their arms. Prudence, a cat like no other, is sure to steal your heart.