Review: The Hollow Places – T. Kingfisher
by T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: October 6, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A young woman discovers a strange portal in her uncle’s house, leading to madness and terror in this gripping new novel from the author of the “innovative, unexpected, and absolutely chilling” (Mira Grant, Nebula Award–winning author) The Twisted Ones.
Pray they are hungry.
Kara finds these 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 the peculiar bunker—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 you fear 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 another compelling and white-knuckled horror novel that you won’t be able to put down.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »violence, death (off-page), alcohol, cheating (of side character) « Hide Spoiler
While I’d read one of this author’s previous fantasy novels, I hadn’t realized she also wrote horror – until I started thinking about the bad guys from Paladin’s Grace. I feel like the highest praise you can give a horror book is that it gave you nightmares. After making the (glorious) mistake of starting this book before bedtime, I woke up in the middle of the night absolutely terrified of the trees outside my window. It’s weeks later and I’m still having nightmares. If that’s not a stellar recommendation, I’m not sure what is!
After a surprising divorce, Kara has gone home to Hog Chapel, North Carolina and her uncle’s Wonder Museum. A quirky place chockfull of taxidermy and sunflower-seed portraits, it’s a good environment to lick her wounds – and just far enough away from her mother. But all Kara’s worries are soon eclipsed when she discovers a hole in the wall in the museum that leads to another place. Soon Kara and Simon, the barista from the coffee shop next door, are exploring a world full of little islands in a seemingly serene forest of willows… until it isn’t.
“Come on, let’s go back to the coffee shop and I’ll make us Irish coffees and we’ll discuss this like people who don’t die in the first five minutes of a horror movie.”
Both Kara and Simon are amazingly realistic characters and they feel human. They react like normal people confronted with some pretty crazy circumstances, though probably with better humor. One example is how Kara spends some of her initial evenings in the museum. It doesn’t have wifi, so Kara curls up against the wall connecting to the coffee shop so she can use their internet to stalk her ex-husband on social media. The visual of her in the dark, surrounded by the whimsical and grotesque exhibits, somehow separated from the rest of the world, really stuck with me. The story builds slowly – sad divorced woman! quirky taxidermy mice! mysterious hole in the wall! Narnia-like forest! – but when it hits, it hits hard. There’s lots of quiet moments to let the tension build (“oh, thank goodness, they’re totally safe now… right?”) and I especially loved the addition of the epistolary-like Bible narrative, which follows a group of soldiers who also end up in the willow world. If this were a blockbuster movie, they’d be the main focus of the movie – instead, we get two average people, a barista and a graphic designer/part-time museum employee, and that’s what makes this book amazing.
“We cannot save the world with sheet metal and batik!”
I read this book weeks ago and keep thinking about it – not just the scary bits (trees why trees) but also bits of the plot. Pain is a reoccurring theme, both Kara’s emotional pain from the divorce and physical pain. When Kara arrives at the museum, emotionally spent from the divorce and barely holding herself together, it’s Uncle Earl’s back pain that leads to Kara cataloging the collection, and then later View Spoiler » it’s Kara’s hurt leg that saves her from Them. « Hide Spoiler And in the end, it’s being surrounded by the place and people she loves (and who love her back) that are what help Kara get over her divorce (never mind the holes in the universe filled with monsters) and what save her. Even reeling from her divorce, Kara knows she’s still loved, like when her Uncle Earl sets up her room with her childhood favorite, a taxidermied Roosevelt elk head she named Prince. I think what this author does exceptionally well is writing a book that’s simultaneously terrifying and comforting, and the mix worked perfectly for me.
Overall, I adored this book and I’ve already picked up the author’s previous horror book. Easily 4.5 stars, and I can practically guarantee this book will be on my top 10 of the year list. Highly recommended!