#SpooktasticReads The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (October 6, 2020)
Length: 352 pages
I absolutely adored T. Kingfisher’s (Ursula Vernon) The Twisted Ones, so I was looking forward to The Hollow Places with a great deal with anticipation, as you can imagine. To my delight, this book also featured the same superb balance of humor and horror, with some added portal fantasy and Lovecraftian elements besides. All throughout, I was strongly reminded of 14 by Peter Clines and if, like me, you’re a fan of the Threshold series, then I think there’s a good chance you’ll also get a huge kick out of this one.
Our story begins with an introduction to Kara, our newly divorced and strapped-for-cash heroine who now faces the unenviable reality of having to move back in with her mother. Fortunately, Uncle Earl comes to the rescue at the very last minute. For as long as she can remember, Kara’s eccentric uncle has been the owner and curator of the Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosity, and Taxidermy in her hometown of Hog Chapel, North Carolina. It’s a place she remembers fondly, where, as a little girl, she would spend hours exploring its strange and exotic exhibits while listening to her affable uncle share his stories and pearls of wisdom. Lately though, Earl has been having some trouble with his bad knee and needs some extra help around the museum, so he offers Kara a chance to work for him in exchange for free accommodation.
Happy to be back at the museum (and relieved to be free of her mother), Kara immediately sets to work cataloging Earl’s massive collection of curios and oddities in between taking care of daily operations. She also befriends some of the townsfolk, including the museum’s regulars as well as Simon, the happy-go-lucky gay barista from the coffee shop next door. But then Earl’s condition takes a turn for the worse, requiring knee surgery and a prolonged stay at a hospital out of town, and Kara readily agrees to hold down the fort while he is away, determined not to let him down. So when a hole is later discovered in one of the walls of the museum, presumably caused by some careless tourist’s elbow, Kara is understandably annoyed. Recruiting Simon to help patch up the damage, the two of them go to inspect the wall…only to find a portal that leads to a whole different world! Intrigued, they decide to investigate, unaware that they’ve just stepped through a door to another reality, one where their darkest nightmares lurk.
Once again, readers are treated to a narrative told in a light and breezy tone which belies the creepiness and macabre nature of the story’s contents. That’s because Kara isn’t your typical horror novel protagonist. Like Mouse from The Twisted Ones, she’s in desperate need of a distraction from a relationship that ended badly, moving back to the tiny podunk town she grew up in to manage a museum of wacky exhibits and artifacts from around the world (some admittedly not so genuine). Heck, if I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought this was the intro to a contemporary romance, especially given Kara’s distinctive voice—which was by far my favorite thing about this book. Her personality is good-humored with just a bit of snark, but she’s also only human, giving in to the occasional breakdown whenever she sneaks a look at her ex’s Facebook page because she simply can’t help herself. It’s this candidness and wit that makes Kara such an incredibly genuine and relatable character, and I loved every moment spent in her head.
It’s also this energy that helped carry me through some of the novel’s slower parts—because as much as I enjoyed myself, I have to admit there were a few sections that dragged. The time Kara and Simon spent in the “on the other side” was perhaps a little too drawn out for my tastes, for instance, and I was also somewhat underwhelmed by the ending revelations, in the light of the considerable buildup leading to the conclusion. More than that I don’t want to say in case it gives too much away, but I did feel the finale and its “explanations” were a bit rushed.
That said, I still had a great time with this book. The fabulous Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosity, and Taxidermy also deserves a mention, as I couldn’t imagine a more apropos setting for a story about weird shit happening than in place full of actual weird shit. I was riveted by Kara’s descriptions of all the different exhibits, and some of them even made me laugh out loud. Best of all, the museum was integrated into the horror and mystery of the plot in the most mind-blowing way, and it’s definitely worth experiencing for yourself.
In conclusion, The Hollow Places is a book I would recommend, especially if you find the premise of a weird horror and portal fantasy mashup intriguing. The novel’s slower parts meant that I probably still enjoyed The Twisted Ones just a tad more than this one, but nevertheless I would say my second time with a T. Kingfisher book was another resounding success. I look forward to reading even more.