My Rating: 4 stars
After getting a divorce, Kara (called Carrot) moves home to help her uncle his small museum full of taxidermy and other oddities. But things become truly strange when a hole appears in the wall leading to a bunker that shouldn’t exist. Her and her barista friend, Simon, start exploring only to discover a river full of willows and portals to different worlds on the other side. For me, a good horror novel always features characters that I can connect with and care about, and I liked both Carrot and Simon and their dynamic together. They react to the horrors they encounter in ways that feel very human, sometimes panicking, sometimes being calm and collected, sometimes making jokes to deflect from the situation, and always just struggling their way through. It made them feel real and easy to connect with.
The real star of the book is the atmosphere Kingfisher creates. The Willows is utterly eerie and unsettling from the moment Carrot and Simon go through the door. Kingfisher builds this perfect sense of dread as her characters wander around this quiet and seemingly empty world, causing the reader to hold their breath because they know something terrible will happen. And when things do happen, they are terrifying. Fair warning, there is quite a bit of body horror and gore in here, so you’re uncomfortable with those, this isn’t the book for you. Kingfisher also nails the atmosphere of the museum. Early on, we feel the same safety and comfort there as Carrot, but as things progress, the museum starts to feel as spooky and dangerous as the Willows. The climax is especially excellent, but I won’t say anything more to avoid spoilers.
I did notice that it’s a fairly predictable book in many ways. I figured out several major things early on that it takes Carrot ages to realize. There were a few points where I said, “Girl, why are you being dumb? It’s so obvious!” However, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all, and I think we’re supposed to figure it out well before her. Half the fun of the horror genre is knowing while the oblivious characters walk into bad situations. But if you’re looking for a book with plot twists or any element of mystery, this isn’t it. There is only one time I was surprised by something that happens, or rather doesn’t happen. And I’m going to spoil it here because I think there are people like me who would want to know ahead of time. So don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want a small spoiler. A cat named Beau lives at the museum, and he’s a character in his own right. Honestly, he was my favorite. Kingfisher really nailed writing a cat. There are a few moments toward the end where it seemed like Beau might not make it, and because the animals usually die in horror stories, I expected him to die. But he doesn’t! And I appreciate Kingfisher so much for that because animal death always makes me cry.
Overall, The Hollow Places is a great horror novel that I would recommend to anyone who likes the genre. It’s creepy and terrifying in the best and most fun way.