Ahoy there mateys! Though the first mate and I have very different reading tastes, occasionally we do recommend books to each other. Books the first mate introduced to me included xom-b, holes, and the perks of being a wallflower. He and I both read the following:
hollow kingdom (Kira Jane Buxton)
We read and talked about the book and I enjoyed his viewpoint so I
ordered asked him to write a review. So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the first mate writes like he thinks. Hope you enjoy!
From the Captain:
I was on the fence about reading this but the idea of the apocalypse told from a crow’s point of view kept bringing me back. The First Mate read this and tipped me over the edge. It ended up being an okay read.
I did really love the first half of the book. The set-up of the story and the introduction to S.T. (the crow) and Dennis (the dumb dog) were excellent. I thought it was a lovely touch that S.T. was a crow that wanted to be a human and just wants to help his human friend, Big Jim. The humor of Big Jim being a kinda conservative redneck was especially well done given the heart that S.T.’s viewpoint adds to the situation. I ended up caring about Big Jim because S.T. does.
The highlight of the book was of course the relationship between S.T. and Dennis. The secondary highlight was the idea of the various ways the animal kingdom communicates in an internet sort of way. The problem for me is that once the book went from being about helping Big Jim and expanded to helping the domestic animals, I started to lose interest. Then the author killed off a fun character for NO reason and that irked me. The book proceeded to shift into animal politics, had info dumps, had several false endings, and had a plot twist dealing with the humans that I found unnecessary. There were so many plot problems in that second half. Of course the author can choose to write what they want but it was not what I wanted the story to become.
No regrets but I won’t be reading the sequel. Arrrr!
From the First Mate:
This book is a bit uneven, but I really quite liked it. Considering
that I’m a soft-hearted fool when it comes to animal death and this
book features a fair amount of animal death and I still found it an
enjoyable read, I’d say that my enjoying it was a win.
The Captain had mentioned Hollow Kingdom to me because I have a
fondness for unconventional narrators. I like chatty narrators
(exposed to Tristram Shandy and Joseph Andrews in my
formative literary years) and especially narrators who are weird in
some way. S.T., the narrator of Hollow Kingdom, is plenty
weird in that he’s a crow that doesn’t want to be a crow, wants to
save his best friend from this pesky little zombie apocalypse that’s
occurring, and routinely rides around on the stupidest dog in
existence. The Captain had cautioned that she’d heard the book was
full of scatalogical, dudebro humor, but that’s not really the case.
There’s some scatalogical events (Dennis the dog “yarfing” and some
shitting) but it didn’t come across to me as though it was played for
laughs. More in the vein of: these are biological processes and they
At its best, Hollow Kingdom is a novel about identity,
friendship, community and responsibility. S.T. starts out just
wanting to fix his friend, Big Jim, and continue on his path of
becoming a radical mofo. He ends up participating in a war, teaching
other animals how to save domestics, and finding community with those
he’d previously despised. We meet some awesome characters (Genghis
Cat being the most awesome of all) and many of the adventures are
quite engaging, tense, and well written.
On the other hand, there are quite a few elements of the novel that
simply don’t work. The zombie apocalypse aspect is really superfluous
to the rest of the story. If Buxton had simply had humans die out
instead of what happens to them, the story doesn’t really change all
that much. There’s an infodump about 2/3rds of the way through that
tells us what’s going on with the humans, and I just didn’t care.
Additionally, some of the characters that were killed off seemed kind
of wasteful and really left me scratching my head over whether they
were necessary to the story at all. There are also interlude chapters
devoted to various animals from around the world and how they’re
dealing with what’s going on. I did not enjoy the interludes, except
the two that featured Genghis Cat.
Structurally the book feels like it should have ended at about the
halfway point. Most of S.T.’s growth has occurred by that point, he’s
taught all that he’s going to teach, and there’s a pretty good moment
where various characters come together. And then it just kind of
continues. There’s a couple of battles, some more deaths (some earned
and others feeling very cheap), and then an ending that really felt
out of place and unnecessary.
The reason to read Hollow Kingdom is the joy of the base
premise. An intelligent crow narrates the apocalypse. The narration
was enjoyable enough that I was able to overlook most of the novel’s
problems while reading. Thinking back, the problems become very
evident when I’m not grinning to myself over the enjoyable narration.
Worth giving a shot if the premise appeals and you’re a fan of chatty
narrators. Avoid if domestic animal death cuts you to the quick.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
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. His most tried-and-true remedies–from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis–fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.
Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.
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