You know how sometimes you read a book and it just feels so "you" that you're almost angry that you didn't write it? Well, this was one of those books for me and I absolutely loved it. I hadn't read any T. Kingfisher before The Hollow Places, though their books have been on my TBR for a while, but I think I''m going to need to change that pretty soon now!
The Hollow Places is a twisty, unpredictable, and endlessly fascinating story about a woman who, along with her friend, stumble into a strange, rather terrifying, and erratically unreliable alternate other world that drastically alters their views of life as they currently know it. But before we get to that part of the book, let's talk about the general setup and characters.
The story starts off when Kara winds up moving in with her Uncle Earl to help him work his museum, The Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy in Hog Chapel, North Carolina--and yes, it's as wacky and amazing as it sounds. I loved everything about Uncle Earl and his museum, and I know for a fact that it's the sort of place that I would have hours of fun wandering around in and seeing everything that this weird museum has to offer, no matter whether it's authentic or not. Then, of course, Uncle Earl is such a delightfully harmless man who continually says the simplest yet most introspective and enlightening things. I really feel like Uncle Earl's perception on a lot of things would make the world a slightly better place if we could adopt them ourselves.
Then we have Kara, our protagonist and main POV, and Simon, her neighbor/friend who works at the coffee shop attached to the museum. Kara was the most endearing and entertaining character to follow on this journey; her narrative insights and commentary were indispensable and she had me snorting and laughing every step of the way, even when things weren't exactly in a... er, amusing situation. Kara has a very matter-of-factness and sarcasm about her that I think allowed me to connect with her to a stronger degree than I usually connect with characters. Her reactions to situations felt exceptionally real and authentic and I really do think Kingfisher did an exceptional job of capturing her reactions to things of horror and indescribable qualities in a way that was both authentic, as mentioned, and also incredibly captivating and somehow made things even more intense.
And in addition to Kara is Simon, an equally shining star and all-around fantastic person that I would also love to be friends with. Both of these characters were ones I connected excellently with, and Simon also had some great dialogue and a personality that I couldn't get enough of. He's definitely full of sarcasm, much like Kara, and I'd say his personality is just ever-so-slightly lighter than Kara's and has a little bit more of an air of humor than hers, though both had me laughing throughout. Together, the two had an incredible friendship and I wouldn't have wanted to embark on this journey with any two other people. Their chemistry (as friends!) was natural and flowed effortlessly and it's clear that Kingfisher does a great job of developing relationships between her characters.
I know I've talked about how much the characters made me laugh in this book and how much I love everyone's personalities for its humor and sarcasm, but this book is actually a bit dark and full of horror and there are definitely some images and scenes that will likely linger in your mind long after you close the book. The humor and sarcasm from our characters come in response to the horrible and confusing things they see and begin to discover, which is how I typically react to bad things in life as well (although to be fair, I've never stumbled into a portal world that is full of impossibilities and horrifying willows that creep around amidst creatures that want to do, well, things to people if they don't feel like simply devouring you instead--and I won't even tell what I mean by that, you'll just to have find out what "pray they are hungry" means in the book... and queue the shuddering). This book is full of creepy, unnerving things that I loved while still being simultaneously disturbed by, and Kingfisher created such a strong atmosphere of unease that I couldn't help but fall into the book. There was also this sort of combination of normalcy and complete alienness and terror that somehow made things even weirder. One second you were hearing about or seeing something completely unheard of or random, and the next you had either the characters bringing you back down to earth or other plot events unfolding that were unexpected.
Lastly, I can't go into details because I want to spoil nothing, but I really loved the sort of late mid-novel climax (if you can call it that?) that provided a really subtle and unexpected plot development that I haven't seen utilized in very many novels, especially with some horror/fantasy like this. I really loved how Kingfisher plotted out this novel and the pacing--all of it felt spot on and was completely captivating. And I'm a big fan of the way this book ended, full of mystery yet also wrapped up enough to satisfy those who prefer some closure. Maybe.
Overall, it's an easy five stars from me! I cannot wait to start diving into more of T. Kingfisher's books, though I know I'll be revisiting this one quite a bit in the future because I absolutely loved it.