Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978 0 5750 9085 9
Category: fantasy/supernatural
Rating: YA

Is love enough to complete you?

Mary, the story's protagonist, exists in a post apocalyptic world where most of humanity have become a zombie race known as the Unconsecrated. Living in a small isolated village, and believing themselves to be the last of the unturned, Mary and her people live under the rule of a sacred Sisterhood. The Sisterhood are tasked with protecting this surviving pocket of humanity, keeping order and unbeknown to the villagers guarding a few deep and dark secrets. Mary has been raised with her mother's tales of the ocean, a vast and salty expanse of water of which the only evidence was a photo now long since lost in a village fire. When Mary’s mother is bitten and subsequently infected she chooses to become one of the Unconsecrated instead of being killed. This puts in place a chain of events for Mary that has her challenge the rules of her village, the ways of the sisterhood and ultimately her entire way of life. Mary soon embarks on a path of discovery, to discover the answers to the secrets, to discover herself and to discover this mythical ocean told to her by her mother.

Let’s start with what I liked about this book. It was engaging, it had good pacing and that ‘it’ factor which prevents you from putting it down. It’s a refreshing break from the onslaught of Vampire books flooding the YA market right now, still has that supernatural element that brings all the fantasy lovers to the yard yet delivers something outside the box. It’s also good to see a zombie book aimed at girls. Much like the immensely popular The Hunger Games this book requires its Heroine to fight for her life in a dystopia where no protection will be afforded to you just because you’re a frail teenage girl. No strapping werewolf or sparkly vampire steps up to the plate to rescue and protect her. Mary does pretty much all the stunt work herself.

The first person narrative worked and it didn’t. It seems to be the in thing in YA fiction right now and to be honest it’s just not my cup of tea so I may have a built in prejudice. It had its places where it worked, particularly at the start of the book. The abrupt tone and brevity of the sentences worked to show us Mary’s grief and numbness. Though as the book wore on her continuing in this style had the effect of casting Mary as rather distant and unsympathetic in character. It also prevented us from seeing inside any other characters heads and as Mary turned out to be a little on the shallow side I could have done with the variety.

Overall I just wasn't feeling it for the main protagonist of this book. She came off as immature to bordering on mentally deficient in some parts. There was one scene where Mary and the object of her affections Travis were holed up in a house on a platform, because zombies can’t climb apparently. Isolated and alone with your true love, a horde of flesh eating zombies literally pressing in at your door and what does Mary do? Does she make the most of their confinement and use the time to develop their relationship? Does she put her head together with him and perhaps devise a clever escape plan? No to both. Mary locks herself in the attic day after day and broods. She sulks, she feels sorry for herself, she’s morose to the extreme. She plays dress up with some frilly frocks she finds in a trunk and has an epic emo moment where she writes her feelings out on notepaper, attaches them to arrows and then shoots them into the heads of the amassing zombie horde.

Mary came across as having very little compassion for anyone other than herself. People gave up their lives for her, Travis, her brother, even Harry would have risked all for her safety yet all Mary was interested in was seeing the Ocean. Despite hundreds of zombies and their unrelenting objective to eat her brains Mary still found time to sulk due to having her feelers hurt by pretty much all of the characters at some point in the story. Dear Mary, get over yourself.

Throughout the book Ryan tried to set up a love triangle between Mary and the two brothers Travis and Harry. She failed horribly. The romance had no development. As there was little in the way of character development there was no real interest in seeing either brother win her affections. We are told in a few sentences they grew up together. That’s the extent of the history you get on them. No explanation as to why they both find her so alluring or vice versa, other than Travis has nice eyes. Considering the underpinning theme of this book is seeking your own destiny and not settling for safe, combined with how pointless the love triangle was when all was said and done, then I have to wonder why she bothered at all. It seemed to be a redundant plot bunny that went nowhere.

Very few of the characters had any real depth, I felt no connection to them, they almost all had walk on parts. Character development was on the thin side in this book.

My main critique of the book was that there was just not enough information to make this universe plausible. What information we were given left more questions or seemed too improbable to be believable. Like how they made clothes, where they obtained reading and learning material, how they avoided incest. The books Mary came across on her journey all seemed so old that they disintegrated to dust so what were they using to learn from back at the village, because they weren't illiterate. Surely they would have the same aged literature as elsewhere so unless they were producing their own books you would assume the villages paper products where fast becoming dust too. If they produced their own where were did they obtaining fresh ink and paper from? Did they even have a printing press? Did they have any industrial machinery? The whole isolated tiny village thing with no outside connection just didn't bode, there weren't enough details provided for it to be credible. It was little things like this that nagged me right through the book. I needed more details, more background information, more answers. I can only suspend my belief so far.

The zombies themselves didn't make sense either as far as zombies go. They walk around and exist just fine with limbs hanging off, bones sticking out, fingers broken off to stubs yet an arrow to the noggin kills them dead... again. Fire will kill them, drowning in a river kills them; an axe in the chest kills them.  The plot holes are glaring.

The most absurd condition of all was they are kept out of the village by a chain link fence. I realise zombies are not the cleverest supernatural creatures ever to be thought up but a chain link fence, that's it?

I found the ending to be very abrupt and unsatisfying and hardly an ending at all really, more like a lead in for the next book.

The moral of the tale; Is love enough to complete you? Will marriage and babies and the love of a man make you happy? If not don’t settle. Get out there and follow your dream. Get off the beaten path and make your own way… even if there are hungry zombies after your brains.

3 out of 5


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