Published: March 2011
There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.
Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.
But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?
From the very start Carrie Ryan's book "Dark and Hollow Places," the third and final instalment in her Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy, had me hooked. I'll freely admit I went into the series thinking 'eww, zombies!' Fairies, pile 'em on. Werewolves, more please. Vampires, why not.? Angels, where do I sign up? But flesh-eating zombies? Wasn't going to touch that with a barge pole. Curlypow was insistent though, so I reluctantly picked up the first, "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," and loved it. Ryan's got a very engaging style that just draws you in, keeping all the seething angsty teenage emotion nicely balanced with action going on in the wider world.
So, somewhat sheepishly, I found myself devouring (no pun intended) the first one, and eagerly chowing down on the second. When the third came in for me on OverDrive, I was more than pleased! Somewhat because I felt I'd gotten my hands on a book that I thought would be cool enough for the Princesses and their readers, but mainly because I wanted to find out what the hell was going to happen to end the trilogy. And really, closet Catcher fan here. Elias is great an' all, but I'm very much Team Catcher.
Bottom line was I thoroughly enjoyed it. The setting was more gritty and urban compared to her previous books; we're in the Dark City now, having left the Forest behind. We're no longer getting hints about the state of the outside world, you're introduced to it in all its shocking and dark reality. You're quite a way down the road in that little handbasket.
There were excellent action scenes that I can't help feeling would be great to see on the big screen, but I think my favourite as always with Ryan's works was the emotions and depths of character. I started out not liking Annah, but ended up doing my little fist-pumping end-zone dance for her. I loved seeing the layers getting peeled back, seeing that secretly noble core coming to light. I truly came to admire her by the end, that finding the hidden strength within yourself when all you want to do is curl up and let the rest of the world wash over you. At the heart of it she's a true survivor, and I think her entire character could be summed up by one of her mental musings:
"And if I've learned anything surviving on my own it's that I can take another step. That's all I have to promise myself: one more step, and then I can worry about the one after that." (page 276)
Another of my favourite quotes, and there were many, was when Ryan sneaks some morality and Machiavelli under the radar:
"Does the fact that we ended up here and now with little hope mean that everything that came before was meaningless? The rise and fall of empires? The families and wars and loss and growth and knowledge and striving for something better? Is it always about the end and not about the beginning? Is it always about the conclusion and not about the path to it?" (page 272)
Along with all the tasty characters, there's loads of the angsty teen love we just lap up. The love triangles (sometimes squares), the hidden looks, the tormented wonderings, those moments that make you clasp your hands beneath your chin with big shiny eyes. Ryan takes it above the spinning hearts and twinkly stars though, and we see that Annah is truly terrified of letting go, of actually trusting and depending on someone. It's not just about two teens meeting and falling in love, it's about all the messy crap and painful misunderstandings that go along with it.
At several points I couldn't help but wonder how it would end, how it could possibly end. I envisioned this nuclear bomb type explosion and fading to black, complete with a little 'fin' in the middle of the screen. I found the ending satisfying, if a little pat, but hey, I like that type of ending. Some threads were tied up nicely, but others were left to dangle, leaving enough gaps so you're just not quite sure how things end, or even leaving the window cracked for another series.
I will plaster on one huge caveat: this is a book for mature YA readers. This world is pretty damn mean and gritty, and there are several mature situations. Sexual assault occurs ("two women on an island full of brutal Recruiters was bound to lead to trouble," page 140) and there's some brutal scenes of mob violence and abuses of authority. Sometimes it's implied, other times it's put out there in all its horrifying glory. Not a book for the faint of heart of those of delicate sensibilities.
Overall, fantastic book, loved it. I think my favourite part was the postcard though. I found it intriguing how it played quite significant roles in all three of the books. It's got my vote for best supporting role by a piece of stationery.