Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Hollowland by Amanda Hocking

Rating: 4.8 out of 5

I love horror. In the past, I would read nothing but. It encapsulated my every reading and viewing experience for years. There was just something about how much these works, when done well, could be so emotionally and intellectually viable, that made them so appealing.

In this regard, I’ve only had one complaint – the dearth of female contributors to the genre. Truth be told, I adore the feminine perspective, but their presence has been lacking. Sure, we have Anne Rice, but she hasn’t written anything that’s appealed to me since Memnoch the Devil. And then we have Stephanie Meyer…but to put her works of paranormal teenage lust under the horror umbrella is severely misguided. And that’s about it.

But then recently I discovered Amanda Hocking, and I think I’m in love.

Now, most of Hocking’s books definitely fall into the paranormal romance/young adult category, which doesn’t necessarily interest me. However, I received her newest novel, Hollowland, as a review copy, and I have to tell you…this is horror done just about perfectly.

Hollowland is the story of Remy, a nineteen-year-old survivor of the zombie apocalypse. The novel throws you right into the action; at the beginning, the quarantine she is living in (somewhere in the Nevada desert) falls under attack by the hungry undead. She escapes, along with a thirteen-year-old girl named Harlow. Remy’s younger brother Max, who also lived there, had been evacuated when the invasion began. Remy, as his only surviving family member, takes it upon herself to find him once more.

Just as with most apocalyptic novels, this one is a journey. Remy and Harlow head north, in search of Max. Along the way they meet up with Blue, a not-quite-doctor, and Lazlo, a young man who’d been in one of those pop-punk bands (think Blink-182) before the world they all knew collapsed into man-eating madness. Remy also, in one of the quirkier aspects of the book, discovers a lioness hooked up to a trailer. Remy saves the lion and it becomes another travel companion – one that is, since animals are immune to the virus that has destroyed modern civilization, indispensible when it comes to helping her small pride survive the various attacks that occur.

So this odd group heads north, encounters zombies, fights zombies, gain new travel companions, watch some of those new companions die, and eventually reach the quarantine. And that’s about it for the plot. It’s basic, as far as zombie tale goes. But that’s not what I found so likeable about it.

The characters are brilliant – Remy in particular. She’s morose and unfriendly, an individual who’s bound to her duty and responsibility, and who’s also been understandably tainted by her experiences following the end of the world. She carries herself with a quiet strength that is beautiful and haunting at the same time. Harlow, her companion, is still young and often a bit more sensible than her protector. She is prone to outbursts of immaturity, and she holds a longing for some sort of normality that causes her to perhaps look past certain aspects of the people they meet, aspects that could prove dangerous, in the anticipation they could perhaps give her a safer, less hectic existence. Combine the two of them, and a somewhat depressing theme washes over the words that I find rare when considering the subgenre of apocalyptic zombie fiction. These are no more than children we have here, and the text doesn’t lose sight of the fact that they’ve lost their childhoods. In fact, this is in some ways the main point – that the girls are girls and they (especially Remy) lament the fact they’ve had to become women quickly. As I said, this is something I appreciate, a practical facet of storytelling that many who’ve written end-of-the-world tales (this side of McCarthy) tend to ignore.

And this is only one of the many themes presented within. Just as with the best horror, the monsters are simply part of the story, and the true moral is told with them as a backdrop. In fact, often it is the people, themselves, who are the real monsters. From the messianic zealot they meet (aptly named Korech, meaningful for those of you who remember Waco, Texas) to the violent marauders that populate one of the towns they come across, it ends up being regular old un-infected humans who beget some of the worst malevolence found within. And when you combine these ill-meaning actions with the sometimes selfish actions of Remy and her crew, you can see how those shades of gray filter into the characters, making every decision difficult. This adds to the hard-line feel that Remy, in particular, encapsulates. She is a woman on a mission, after all. How much of herself is she willing to sacrifice?

The answer, come the end of the book, is everything. And it’s beautiful.

I found very few flaws with this novel. It’s told in first-person, which isn’t my favorite viewpoint (though I have used it in the past, myself), but for this it works. It allows us to see the world through Remy’s jaded eyes, to feel her dissatisfaction and doubt, to understand how much she simply wants to be the teenager she is. In fact, come the final pages, it is only through her giving in to her humanity, when she finally allows herself to live rather than simply survive, that she is able to follow through with the hardest choice she’s made in her life. In that moment I cried out for her, wishing I could dive into the page and change her mind.

Hollowland is a fast read. I completed it in about four hours of engrossed reading. It’s simple in structure but complex in emotion. Author Hocking doesn’t shy away from gore (it’s there in abundance, of course, being a book about dead folks that eat people), but the violence of the piece doesn’t overwhelm the reader. It has everything a horror novel should have, and is entirely captivating. In other words, Hollowland is a rare treat, like a fine wine we know we should savor but can’t help consuming at a rapid pace because, well, it’s just so good. Hollowland might not redefine the genre, but it just may change the fact that women have been so sparse. This is something I hope to happen, because, well, it needs to.

Amanda Hocking is a master storyteller. She knows how to reel in her reader and keep them glued to her words. Anyone who has any interest at all in reading a well-told story needs to read this. It’s fantastic, horrific, and strangely beautiful. Once you reach the open ending, you’ll hope the writer decides to continue with Remy’s tale, because you’ll want to see these wonderfully fleshed-out characters carry out their journey to its conclusion.

Plot - 10

Characters - 10

Voice - 10

Execution - 8

Personal Enjoyment – 10

Overall – 48/50 (4.8/5)

Purchase Hollowland in the Kindle Store, or in paperback.


juli said...

I'm at a loss for words, except ... Wow! What an incredible review!

I can't wait to read this book!

k_murray74 said...

Wow, I am sold!! This review just made me want to read the book now!! I love all of Amanda's books to date and am very excited for what she throws at us in the future.

Patty said...

I just bought this book even though I don't want to read about zombies...but your review is awesome...

Ginny said...

The book was wonderful. I agree with everything you wrote; it captured the essence of the story completely.