Title: The Dark and Hollow Places
Author: Carrie Ryan
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Horror, Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia, Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte (US) / Gollancz (UK)
Publication Date: March 2011 (US) / April 2011 (UK)
Hardcover: 374 pages
There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister’s face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.
Annah’s world stopped that day, and she’s been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn’t feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.
But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it’s up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return’s destruction?
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I absolutely loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth – it was one of my top 10 books of 2008 – and while I wasn’t quite as blown away by The Dead-Tossed Waves, the second book in the series, I loved the book and eagerly awaited the third novel. The only reason I took so long reading this book is because I didn’t want the series to end… is that selfish of me?
For every year of her life, the scarred, isolated Annah has survived and endured. When she was five, she survived the Forest of Hands and Teeth with the help of her friend Elias – though it came at the cost of leaving her twin sister behind. In the maze of brutal desperation that is the Dark City, Annah and Elias have grown up pretending to be brother and sister, clinging to each other for solace. But when Elias decides to leave and join the Recruiters, the protective forces charged with hunting down the infected undead, Annah is left alone for the first time and forced to fend for herself. Keeping her head down to avoid the cruel, prying eyes of others, Annah makes her solitary way through a bleak life of endless gray, clinging to the hope that Elias will soon return to her.
After three years without word from Elias, though, Annah must deal with the reality that he may not ever be returning. As she chooses to leave the Dark City to make her own path and discover what may have happened to her family in the forest, fate has her come across a girl that looks like a smoother, unscarred version of herself – Annah’s twin sister, Gabry. Proud and beautiful, Gabry stands up to the cruel Recruiters that guard the bridge to the Dark City from the Neverlands, as does a haunted looking young man that is somehow immune to the undead, named Catcher. In return for her defiance, the Recruiters take Gabry prisoner, all while Annah watches on helpless to stop them. As Annah desperately tries to rescue her twin, drawing the eye of more Recruiters, Catcher insinuates himself into Annah’s life and is determined to help her – for the sake of his friend Gabry, and because of a promise he made to Elias.
Catcher and Annah’s struggles, though terrifying, become inconsequential as a sleeping horde of thousands of unconsecrated move on the Dark City, overwhelming its defenses and infecting with each bite of their gnashing teeth. Annah and Catcher are desperate to find Gabry and Elias, and bring the group to safety. In this cold world, though, safety comes at an impossible premium – in return for the shelter of the Recruiters, paid for by Catcher’s unique immunity and ability to scavenge undetected by the undead, Annah, Gabry and Elias’s lives hang in the balance. In order to truly live, not just survive day to day in a listless experience defined by fear, Annah knows she must find a way to escape her prison and lead those she loves to safety. But even if she can leave, where is there to go in a world overrun by so much death and hopelessness?
In the third and final novel of this series, author Carrie Ryan is brutal, unrelenting, and masterfully sadistic with her readers. Let me just put it this way: The Dark and Hollow Places is pretty damn awesome. Continuing the story told in The Dead-Tossed Waves from the perspective of heroine Gabry’s long-lost twin Annah, The Dark and Hollow Places slightly overlaps with the last book before moving on, bringing to a conclusion the threads of the previous novel. While I think The Forest of Hands and Teeth‘s Mary, with her dreams of the ocean and a future beyond the stifling fences of her village, will always be my favorite of the trio, Annah is a close second. Though she is Gabry’s identical twin, Annah’s experiences have scarred her, literally and figuratively. While Gabry has grown up safe and loved by her mother, Annah’s life has been one of pain, quiet, and struggle. While Gabry did not remember anything of her past, not even the fact that she had a twin sister or how they were separated in a fearful trek through the forest of hands and teeth, Annah has never forgotten the twin she left behind and shoulders the heavy burden of guilt for that decision every day of her life. While Gabry skin is smooth and unmarred, her mannerisms self assured and beautifully proud, Annah uses the barbed-wire scars that run down her face and body as both shield and weapon.
Most importantly, Annah is a fighter. Unlike her more sheltered sister, Annah has been forced to survive in the Dark City and make it on her own when Elias leaves. When Catcher enters the picture, Annah resists putting herself in anyone else’s hands, determined to take care of herself and be beholden to no one. Of course, while Annah’s determination and strength is something to be admired, it’s also a double-edged sword as she holds everyone away from her to protect herself. I loved the tension between Annah and Gabry, as Annah fights resentment and love for the sister that has the kind of life Annah could not. But rather than succumb to bitterness, I loved that Annah finds a way to not only reconcile with her sister and Elias, who abandoned her, but to embrace the experiences that have shaped Annah as a person.
The other characters in this piece are more varied. Annah’s counterpart is Catcher, who we met in The Dead-Tossed Waves, who struggles with the gift and curse of his immunity – a gift, because he can walk through the unconsecrated untouched; a curse because the Recruiters use his ability to scavenge for supplies and hold those he loves hostage. The relationship that blossoms between the scarred Annah and the broken Catcher seems, perhaps, inevitable, but for the most part I believed it (even if the degree of their attachment seemed to happen awfully quickly). Gabry is given a different dimension in this book through Annah’s narrative, too, and she emerges as more sympathetic than she may have been in the last book. Interestingly, Elias comes off as kind of a jerk in this book, having left Annah on her own in a terrifying city to join the Recruiters for some questionable reasons (and after a big incident that has left Annah even more emotionally wounded). My only serious character qualms extend to the villainous Recruiters – who seem almost uniformly, predictably villainous. The cruel, woman-brutalizing, violent army types are a tired staple in zombie fiction, and in The Dark and Hollow Places this trope is in full force. I so wanted Ox, the leader of the Recruiters, to have more depth and texture as a character, and while he seems to understand Annah in a way that others do not, this character’s particular end came off as a bit melodramatic.
From a plotting perspective, I loved that we get even more concrete answers in this book. The Dark City is given a historical context and we learn just how long the unconsecrated have been walking the earth. We learn about the hordes, the overwhelming infection that has taken over the world (if we are to believe Ox and the Recruiters’ map). There are no further “breakers” in this novel, but there wouldn’t be with a horde on the move, with so many infected around. We also learn, at the very end, just who Annah and Gabry really are.
Like the other books, there is an oppressiveness and bleakness when we learn of the extent of the infection and how there might not be any escape anywhere as the Dark City and the Neverlands fall. But there’s also the resilient underlying theme of hope and love, ever important in a future so bleak.
The Dark and Hollow Places is a haunting book with a strong heroine, a compelling storyline, and answers questions raised in the prior books. I can only hope that there will be more from Ms. Ryan in this world (even if the planned trilogy is completed), but Annah’s is a perfect, bittersweet note on which to end the series. One of my notable reads of 2011, and absolutely recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
This city used to be something once. I’ve seen pictures of the way it gleamed—sun so bright off windows it could burn your eyes. At night, lights shouted from steel like catcalls, loud and lewd, while all day long white-gloved men rushed to open doors for women who tottered about on skyscraper heels.
I wonder sometimes what happened to those women when the Return hit—how they were able to run and survive with such absurd contraptions strapped to their feet. How different the world must have been before—safe and comfortable.
The City’s nothing like that anymore. Now, bare beams scrape the sky like splintered finger bones. Half the high-rises have fallen, and scavengers pilfered the intricately scrolled ironwork long ago. There’s not much of anything left anymore, just the fear that seeps fog-like through the streets.
Fear of the Recruiters. Fear of the Unconsecrated. Fear of tomorrow.
Even so, this city’s been my home. Other than the village I lived in as a child, this is the only world I’ve known. It’s sharp-cornered and raw but it’s a refuge for those with a burn to survive. You pay your rents, you follow the rules and you do what it takes to keep living.
Which is why I find myself on the Neverlands side of the Palisade wall that cordons off and protects the Dark City as the last dregs of evening slide across the sky. This is the place where Elias would go when he was desperate for money, desperate to trade so we could pay our rent and stay in our tiny flat for another year. It’s the place where anything can be found for the right trade, and where, after the blade of my only knife broke this afternoon, I’ve come for help.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
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