The Forest of Hands and Teeth
I’d seen this book listed in quite literally dozens of these are the zombie books you must buy lists, before finally taking the plunge with the audio edition. I lost the zombie verve after ploughing through writing my own series, and when I initially read the blurb (YA romance with zombies) I thought it wasn’t for me.
After seeing it in yet another recommended list, I decided that enough was enough, and I couldn’t meaningfully write in a genre where I hadn’t tried to read the best books out there.
First things first – this is one hell of a slow burner. As mentioned, I got the audio edition of this book. I like my audiobooks punchy and quick-paced. At normal speed I initally found Vane Millon’s narration careful and considered, very suited to the introspection of the main character. However within an hour I realised that given the pace of the book (slow, like the hordes of the undead occasionally pressed up against the fences of the protag’s village) I’d need to speed things up to stay interested. At 1.3x usual speed, I found the pace tolerable so for those of you finding this hard to ‘read’ at a normal pace, try cranking the speed up a notch or two.
The story itself is the kind I like in TEOTWAWKI fiction – first person. I know this is a narrative that many find difficult to deal with, however given the ‘end of days’ scenarios, I really like getting in the head of a character, seeing a broken world through only their eyes. This way you experience their terror, grief, confusion – if well-written, the entire range of emotions our protag experiences.
In the Forest, stand by for what appears like a lot of wallowing and self-pity. However, I remember what it was like to be both young, in love, and confused about the future. I think Carrie Ryan handles the characterisation of Mary, the Forest’s lead, excellently. She’s a realistic, if whiny and flawed, main character. What I’ve loved the most about this title however, is the gentle and yet devastating way Carrie Ryan handles grief and loss. Again, I don’t think any other character perspective would give the reader the same depth of emotion.
Whilst pitched as a zombie book – and the infected – unconsecreated in Ryan’s world – do feature a great deal – this is about people. At times you think the book is following the ‘people are monsters’ trope, but despite its slow pacing the book does contain enough twists to keep the reader interested. Given the demographic, this title is not likely to satisfy hardcore zombie fans. There isn’t a lot of action, and what there is, is brief. The events of the book are so long after the initial outbreak as well, that we don’t know why the infection is there. But the atmosphere of the book is so realistic and consistent – harrowing, claustrophobic, and fearful, that it’s horrifying enough in its own right. Lending more than a little from some popular suspense fantasy that I can’t mention for fear of partially giving away the plot, I thoroughly enjoyed this title, and do look forward to finishing and reviewing the rest of the series.