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: our endless numbered days

our endless numbered daysour endless numbered days
by Claire Fuller
Contemporary Fiction
386 pages
Published 2015

I don’t like unreliable narrators. I didn’t realize, at first, that Peggy was one. Even though she mentions at the start of the book that a doctor said she had Korsakoff’s syndrome – meaning malnutrition has messed with her memories – I assumed that it was just because her experiences were so unbelievable that the doctor thought she’d made things up. I also don’t like unreliable narrators because the author obviously knows what truly happened. Leaving the reader in the dark about it seems rude.

Peggy’s narration does seem childlike, often. While at the beginning of the book, that can be excused because she is eight years old, by the end she is seventeen, yet still talking about things with a child’s understanding. I thought that was the effect of Korsakoff’s syndrome, not that she was entirely making some things up.

In our endless numbered days, Peggy is effectively kidnapped by her father when she is eight, and taken to some place deep in the German forest. She spends the next nine years alone in the forest with him, trapping squirrels, gathering roots and berries, and growing simple crops in a small vegetable patch. He tells her, repeatedly, making her repeat it back to him, that the rest of the world was destroyed in a massive storm. They are the last two people alive in their small, sheltered valley. She doesn’t question it until she sees a man in their forest, and that eventually leads her to find civilization again. The book is told in two timelines, flashing back and forth from her memories of her time in the forest, and the present where she’s attempting to re-acclimate to London.

I’m not really sure what to believe; Peggy’s memory or what her mother thinks happened. There are just enough oddities to make either story plausible. I think I prefer Peggy’s version. But that’s the trouble with unreliable narrators; there’s no way to actually know. I don’t like ending a book frustrated. Books should make you feel things, yes, but frustration is an odd emotion to aim for.

This book is odd.

From the cover of our endless numbered days:

Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers, and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly unravels the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy’s return to civilization, her mother begins to learn the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.


Book Review: The Wolves of Winter

wolves of winterThe Wolves of Winter
by Tyrell Johnson
310 pages
Published January 2018

First off, I love this cover. Second, I am somewhat amused that Canadian dystopias always blame the US for the end of the world. It’s always, always, because the US decided to be stupid. I can’t blame them. It’s perfectly realistic. But it is slightly amusing. In the case of The Wolves of Winter, the US carried its War on Terror too far and started nuclear war. It’s unclear how widespread the nuclear winter is; the book is based in the Canadian Yukon where it’s already cold. There’s a brief mention of farmers farther south, so there is still some warmth somewhere. What really did humanity in, though, was the Asian flu. There’s rumor that it was a biological weapon deployed by the US, that then escaped their control, but no one’s really sure.

Lynn – Gwendolynn – lives in a small compound in the Yukon with her mother, brother, uncle, and uncle’s ward. (The son of his best friend – I’m inclined to believe he’s actually the son of the uncle’s lover, but nothing was actually verified.) The only other human they’ve seen in years is their scumbag neighbor who occasionally steals deer out of Lynn’s traps.

Until one day, while out hunting, Lynn comes across the mysterious Jax and his husky, Wolf. She brings him home for food and to tend his wound, and while her family is initially very wary of him, he starts to fit in. And then, of course, the brown stuff hits the fan.

I really enjoyed Lynn and her family. In flashbacks we see them before the flu, before they had to be survivors. I got the feeling her father always saw this coming, and was preparing her for it long before it actually happened. Lynn’s memories of her father are particularly vivid and help to explain exactly how she’s become who she is now.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in a single sitting, but I really like dystopias and winter settings. Ultimately, it’s a pretty average nuclear winter dystopia.

This is the 13th book for my Read Canadian Challenge, so while I do have more Canadian books I plan to read (I just picked up The Young in One Another’s Arms from the library!) I am actually done with the challenge! This also fits the “book about the outdoors or environment” prompt for my Litsy Booked 2018 challenge.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. this book!

From the cover of The Wolves of Winter:

In a postapocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path, this captivating tale shows humanity pushed beyond its breaking point and features a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world. Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s been forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter. 

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of “the world before” have found her tiny community – most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

A stunning debut novel that delivers unforgettable images, The Wolves of Winter reminds us that when everything else is lost there are still things to fight for.


Book Review: Station Eleven


Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Dystopia/Post Apocalypse
333 pages
Published 2014

This was marketed as a dystopia, but it’s really more post-Apocalypse fiction. There’s a fine line between the two – and sometimes things can straddle it – but I wouldn’t call this a dystopia. So I’m a little disappointed there. Otherwise, it was good. I’m left not really sure how I should feel about it, though. I prefer books that make me feel a certain way – romances make me happy, non-fiction usually makes me feel smarter, like I’ve learned something, graphic novels make me nostalgic. I’m even okay with books like The Fault in Our Stars, or The Crown’s Game, that left me a weeping mess. Station Eleven just left me with an “…o-kay?” Like, what am I supposed to do with this? Unlike most dystopias, I don’t feel like it was a social commentary because it’s post-apocalyptic. (In this case, a virus swept through and killed about 99% of Earth’s population.) But at the same time, because it details events both before and after the apocalypse, I feel like it was trying to be?

The book focuses on how Arthur Leander, a famous actor, touches lives both before and after the apocalypse. It’s a little ironic that it focuses so much on him since he died before it happened. Well. As it started to happen, really, but of a heart attack, not the virus. It rotates between a few different perspectives, but the one used most often is that of Kirsten, who was a child actor in Arthur’s last performance. She survives the apocalypse and ends up traveling with “The Traveling Symphony,” a band of actors and musicians who travel between far-flung settlements around the Great Lakes. The name refers to a comic book drawn by Arthur’s first wife. There’s a dozen little coincidences in the book, leading to people who knew Arthur meeting or almost meeting, but affecting each others’ lives. There are also flashbacks showing Arthur’s life before the apocalypse, and how those people knew him.

I don’t know. It didn’t jump around as much as Oryx and Crake did, it was much easier to follow, but it just left me – meh? It wasn’t a bad book, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. I know other people have given it glowing reviews, so I might just be the odd person out.

A large part of the book takes place in Toronto and British Columbia, and the author is Canadian, so this book is my #3 for the Read Canadian Challenge!

My Read Canadian Book Reviews:

  1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
  2. The Red Winter Trilogy
  3. this book
  4. The Courier
  5. The Last Neanderthal
  6. American War
  7. Next Year, For Sure
  8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
  9. All The Rage
  10. Saints and Misfits
  11. Tomboy Survival Guide
  12. The Clothesline Swing
  13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Station Eleven:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded, and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them. 

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm, is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.