Hollow Kingdom
October 17, 2019 3:07 PM - by Kira Jane Buxton - Subscribe

One pet crow fights to save humanity from an apocalypse in this uniquely hilarious debut from a genre-bending literary author. S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®. Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right.

It's a Zombie apocalypse novel, written from the point-of-view of the animals unaffected by the virus turning all of mankind into zombies. Our primary narrator is a profane crow with a taste for people food and pop culture. It's laugh-out-loud funny in many places, and almost tear inducing sad in at least one place. However the author's attempts to make the novel "mean something" detract from the story IMHO. It would have been okay to just write a funny take on the zombie genre.
posted by COD (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I quite liked most of the attempts to make the story "mean something"! I liked the poignant moments, I loved S.T.'s observations about the human and natural world, and I loved his commitment to making sure the humans' accomplishments (accomplishments in his POV anyway) weren't forgotten. I loved all that. The one thing I absolutely did not like was how incredibly terrible the explanation of the zombie apocalypse was.

I really liked the book! Loved S.T., loved the animals (ESPECIALLY Genghis Cat, what an excellent POV cat), loved the exploration of a world without humans and what it means for animals. But hoo boy, the book should not have bothered to try to explain the zombie apocalypse, especially not when the answer was basically "what if phones, but too much?" per Daniel Ortberg's summation of all Black Mirror episodes. What a facile, obnoxiously moralizing mode of zombie apocalypse, and worse still than the moralizing tone of the mode of zombie apocalypse, the origin of said apocalypse doesn't even hang together thematically with the rest of the book. Climate change is right! fucking! there! as a mode of enabling the zombie apocalypse! You could come up with better pseudoscience to justify that!

Anyway, that one annoying thing aside, S.T.'s POV was a consistent delight. What a good crow.
posted by yasaman at 3:20 PM on October 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah - that's what I was getting at. The attempt to tie it all up in a big bow didn't work for me. I found the "monsters" toward the end of the book to be particularly out of place. I didn't take S.T.'s observations on humanity, which were fabulous, as part of that effort. I read that more as just filling out the S.T character, which I thought she did fabulously. But the effort to make the zombie apocalypse a self-inflicted wound didn't work. As you point out, it could have though.
posted by COD at 3:31 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can imagine an editor saying 'needs moar monster', and this being the result.
posted by QuakerMel at 3:50 PM on October 17, 2019

Agree with the previous comments that the ending of the book is a bit of a mess, especially the video-game-zombie-mutant hordes.

Additionally, one thing I found a bit strange from a thematic perspective was novel's treatment of wolves (the 'unbroken'). Previously the novel had considered a number of different relationships with humanity: positive-ish (domestic animals), neutral (zoo animals), mixed (city animals like crows who are both dependent on and sometimes persecuted by humans). So when the 'unbroken' were introduced, it seemed like they would ultimately fit into this as another perspective: that of persecuted wild animals with an entirely negative relationship with humanity. But instead, the wolves don't get a perspective at all: they're treated like an all-consuming swarm, no different from the spider-mutants or the bird-mutants.

Similarly, I found it a bit odd that ravens never appear in the book as a thematic contrast between the crows who thrived because of humanity and the wilder ravens who had been driven from most of their territory through centuries of persecution.

I think it would have been a far more interesting third act to look at the conflict (political conflict I mean, not just a battle) that arises when the bigger, wilder, more intelligent 'unbroken' ravens and wolves start reasserting themselves in a world whose balance of power has shifted back in their favor.
posted by Pyry at 3:30 PM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I picked this book up at an airport bookstore yesterday and read it mostly on the 3.5 hour flight and then just finished it this morning. I thought it was a pretty astounding work, really. S.T. really worked for me as a narrator and as a lens through which to view humans. The end is a total mess, but I have to say I cried when that one thing happened.

I'm recommending this to people as a laugh-out-loud read (I rarely laugh just from text) and as something sort of wonderful. I wish the final act were better but overall it was a joyous, emotionally-involving read that I'm glad I discovered entirely by accident.
posted by hippybear at 11:10 AM on October 29, 2019

« Older Limetown: Redacted...   |  The Good Place: Tinker, Tailor... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments