Book Review: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Horror
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: October 6th, 2020
Pages: 352, trade paperback
Source: NetGalley

A young woman discovers a strange portal in her uncle’s house, leading to madness and terror in this gripping new novel. 

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. 

This will be a hard one to review, because I think some of my dislike of The Hollow Places will come down to personal preference. I’ve not read the original story The Hollow Places builds on, but much like The Willows, I think The Hollow Places would have worked better as a short story. Simply put, there’s not a whole lot here. It feels a little too flimsy to keep the story going for 300+ pages. There’s a lot of repetition in the set up of scenes and how they progress, and for a few chapters in the middle it feels like Kingfisher is trying to find a way to pad the story. 

The characters also conveniently don’t put together things they’ve seen or heard to figure out what’s going on, when it’s incredibly obvious. I can understand that maybe Kingfisher was going for a “they were so scared they couldn’t think straight” type of deal. But after a while, it became more like, “I’m making them not put these pieces together because it serves the story better.” Also, how did the bunkers get built? And why did the people not build, like, underground tunnels to connect the bunkers? If the creatures can’t get into the bunkers or underground, why not just build underground tunnels? I feel like I may have missed something on that front, because it’s such an obvious solution that I can’t believe it isn’t brought up in the novel.

Also, why did no one think “If we can get through this hole to this other world, then something from that other world could also pass into ours?” at any point? There’s only a fear of the human protagonists going back through the hole and not that anything could come through from the other side.

As for what comes down to personal preference, well, I’ve found that I just don’t find cosmic horror that scary. To me, it’s only logical and rational that there are beings out in the universe that are beyond human comprehension, and that some of them are actively hostile to humans or don’t care about us at all. This doesn’t bother me in the least. 

I also apparently don’t find trees that scary, even if they somehow move around by themselves. The atmosphere didn’t really get to me. It even has a scene of one of my personal nightmares–being in water and not being able to see what’s around you, underneath said water, and when it could be coming for your ankles–and I could only shrug. 

And then there’s Simon. He’s Kara’s friend in her new home, and very, very gay. Kingfisher reminds us of his gayness every chance she gets. Not only that, Kara brings up his gayness every chance she gets, and how he’s “totally not her type” and how “nothing will ever happen between them because, again, GAY.” 

[Simon:] “First we’re going to fix the drywall patch. Then we’re going to tie you to the bed.”
“… Kinky.”
“Yes, but you’re not my type, hon.”

The overly sexualized, sassy, well dressed gay friend is a stereotype for a reason. Kingfisher says she based Simon off real gay people she’s known, so I’m trying not to be too harsh about it because there are gay people who act like this, but in nearly every single scene Simon is in, he makes some kind of gay sex joke or reference. This may come down to me being asexual and not really liking those types of jokes, though. There’s also the argument to be made that it’s one thing for a real person to be comfortable acting like this, but it’s another for a writer to make their character act like a stereotype. There’s just not much depth to Simon, and he doesn’t really seem to add much of anything to the story except to patch up the hole in Kara’s wall.

Kara also makes sarcastic jokes whenever something scary happens, and after a while, it kills the horror of the situation. I understand that Kingfisher was going for “using humor to defuse the terror of the situation” but it was overused to the point that I was like, “Well, if the characters aren’t taking it that seriously, why should I?” This is also where the repetition of scenes comes in: Something scary happens, Kara or Simon would make a joke about it to defuse the situation, and go about their business. 

The reason I rated this two stars is for the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I really, really liked what Kingfisher did with the museum and its inhabitants in the end. Outside of the unseen creatures, there were a few truly horrifying moments. But otherwise, The Hollow Places was a miss for me.

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