So I finished The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

I'd been looking to get back into reading for a long time now. I started a bit of a book club with my girlfriend and that led me to want to do my own reading on my own as well, and she got me to make an account on a little website called The StoryGraph to track reading and so get/stay motivated to read. One cool thing that the website does is once you fill in a few questionnaires of your types of books, genres, etc, the algorithm it will start to give you recommendations based on that, broadening your horizon to more books out there.

That's how I found this book. The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher was one book I definitely judged by its cover first and by its summary second. I was interested in reading horror, and seeing this one be advertised as "dark, mysterious, and tense" actually made me want to give it a shot. And then I finished it! I finished it on April 3rd of this year actually, but I put off the review to dwell on it a little. But here I am now, finally, ready to write my thoughts out and see if I was satisfied in my desire to read a horror book, and if I would recommend this or not.

Let's get this show on the road then.

What I liked

So this was actually quite the quick read! And I mean that both in the length (only 341 pages, more or less my sweet spot) AND the fact that it grabbed me and wouldn't let go until I read like 70 pages in one go every day. The book is written in first person, which is a pov I rather avoid if I can, but I found the writing of Kara's thoughts to be engaging enough that I couldn't put the book down at all and I kept wanting to read on and figure out just what she and Simon would do and how they'd fix everything they got themselves into. I did have issues with it, of course, but I'll detail them later. Overall though the book kept me reading until I'd finished it, so I find it to be a win rather than not.

I quite loved the imagery and the horror elements added to it. The way the story wanted to sort of tip toe the line between sci-fi and kind of magic, leaning more towards sci-fi than anything. The willow world is an incredible place itching to be explored and understood, but I understand why that couldn't be done, and to be honest the mystery and horror works much better because we don't get many conclusive answers to anything. Lots of things go unanswered. Lots of stuff doesn't make sense, in a way that is cosmic and feels wrong and adds to the creepy factor.

Some descriptions of what the characters see and do are intense and gruesome, so if you dislike gore and body horror I'd skip this one. But me? Oh I like it a lot. And I found the descriptions and language used to put things into perspective did a lot of lifting to make the wrongness of the willow world really set in. That world is horrific and violent and ruthless and it really does drive the point home--that school bus was gruesome, sure, but the ranger is gonna stick to my head for life.

I did also enjoy the descriptions used for the light creatures. They were fascinating, and the idea behind the way they worked was a joy to try and make sense of/picture in my head. I have a very specific visual in my mind of how the silver light moved and worked and I really, really enjoyed the fact that I could see it in my head. Wonderful work.

I liked the characters, too. I wish I could've seen more of Earl, but at the same time I feel like he would've gotten stale fast, so I appreciate what I got. The characters rely a little too much on humour to get through the plot to my liking sometimes, but the author at least knows when to drop it.

What I didn’t like

I'm not very happy with the way the story wrapped up, nor with the way the finale dragged itself like a corpse with wings. I'm a little disappointed at how much of the finale/climax could be described as "horror movie climax", which I will elaborate on, but it's fine. It doesn't really take away from the rest of the book, I just... was left lacking.

Also, while I liked both Kara and Simon a lot, I also highly kept disliking them. Karafor her "tee-hee I am a fanfic writer I get into fights online over ships and I mess w the kids" attitude which felt extremely annoying to deal with, though I feel like that was just because, as someone who does spend time online and sees that often enough, I was just sick of it and felt like it added nothing to the story nor to her character. It just made her come across as pretty bitchy in my honest opinion.

Simon, meanwhile, I just disliked because of his tendency to slip into Gay Best Friend territory. He had a few moments that humanized and gave him his own role and past and dimensioning, but every time I had to read about how he was ooo such a criminal or fashionable or whatever, I had to roll my eyes. It just wasn't my cup of tea, but thankfully those moments are few and far between enough that I didn't hate Simon at least. He was a fine character in the end, and I am sad that he didn't get included in the climax of the book. And the reason why he wasn't there I will detail later but good god I found it annoying.

Overall, what I didn't like is way less than what I did like, so at least there's that. Like I said before, at least I did manage to finish the whole thing in three sittings. It's a great book, flaws and all.

The Spoilers Section

Like I already said, the climax was disappointing. So, Kara just sleepwalked to the willow world, saw a "rat infested taxidermied otter" (or whatever it was, I have forgotten already rip) moving around that Beau attacked, and all Simon has to say is "that's rough buddy" and leave her. Mate??? What the hell was that choice! If I'd been him, I would not have left my friend alone at ALL after that, much less if I knew her knee was busted. The choice to leave her alone felt more like the author trying to leave Kara to her own devices so she would have to deal with it on her own, which was idiotic and just led to my next issue: pacing.

I called that climax a horror movie climax and I stand by it. We spend a shitton of pages walking back and forth between upstairs and downstairs and room to room and not even in a way that feels like Kara's being led anywhere, but more like she's going everywhere hoping something works. And I get it, any normal person would probably act that way, but god it gets annoying and stale fast when you're the reader trying to get to the next point. Sometimes it's okay to just be clinical!! To make logical choices for once!!

Speaking of, the revelation at the end about the otter carving annoyed me a little. Yes, it was foreshadowed, but I really dislike the fact that it had an explanation at all. Maybe these things just open up holes everywhere! And why would that man send that carving to Earl anyway? Sounds like he tried to murder someone, really. And not reading the note because Kara didn't see it? Dude, talk about dumb. I guess I like the explanation that the willows are looking to reunite with their carving, but I hated the way it was handled.

Final Thoughts

The Hollow Places was a fun ride. It wasn't horror, not really, and it relied a little too much on comedy, but like I said you could tell the characters needed it. This is more like a Netflix romp with creepy sci-fi and body horror than it is a chilling, horrifying novel that I wanted. But I do not regret my time with this book at all. In fact, it was good enough I may consider reading the rest of the author's work later if I get the time, so kudos to you Kingfisher.

Get this book if you like body horror and a fun mystery, if you like sci-fi that's creepy and hard to understand for the characters, and if you like first person pov. I've had a good time with it overall and I do think it deserves more reads.