SF/F Review – Hollow Kingdom
Synopsis: After the Zombie Apocalypse a foul-mouthed talking crow goes on a road trip with a dog as the world gradually turns magical.
Book Review: Hollow Kingdom is an excellent premise that makes for a fantastic novelette. That it was stretched into a novel is a bit of a tragedy.
The hero, Shit Turd, is absolutely delightful. His bombastic no-fucks-given attitude is a joy to read. It can be a relief to always know where you stand with someone because they can’t be bothered to lie for social desirability. Especially when that person is mostly harmless and sorta playful.
ST has learned most of what he knows from his now-deceased owner, who seems like a hell of an asshole. But through Shit Turd’s admiring eyes we get to feel sympathy for and get an understanding of Big Jim. He’s not great, but he’s human, and he has some good parts hidden under all those rough edges and unpleasantness. That’s quite an accomplishment, and I wish more fiction had this sort of sympathy and understanding as a core part of it. Fiction used to help us understand the other, and I’ve missed that.
That being said, for some reason this was expanded into a novel. That’s not an impossible task, but it requires more than simply repeating the same trick over and over, chapter after chapter. Unfortunately, that’s all that Hollow Kingdom does, and it gets boring very quickly. The cycle of “Shit Turd appeals to the magical internet for direction, it points him toward something, he puts the magic internet on ignore again, then goes there and saves some pets by getting zombies to follow smartphones” repeats with only superficial variation, ad nauseum.
With each repetition, it also introduces new magic, which strains suspension of disbelief more and more. If this book started out as a high-magic fantasy, that’d be fine. But it starts out as a standard non-magical world, that contains a particularly smart crow that’s been trained to say some human words. With each successive chapter more magic is introduced, but it’s portrayed as if it had been there all along, even while humans ruled the earth. It turns out that actually ALL animals can talk, and Big Jim’s pet dog (and ST’s best friend) just happens to be extremely mentally retarded, which is why he acted like a normal dog we all recognize for the first few chapters. And there’s a magical internet for birds. Actually there’s three magical internets, cuz land animals and fish have ones too. And trees are conscious and can talk.
My dude, if these things were true, the world would look DRASTICALLY different from what we live in right now. And yet, the pre-zombified world is portrayed as normal common-place Earth. At best I could speculate that the zombie virus is literally magic, and infects everything, and for anything that’s not human it gives them human-level intelligence and vocal organs and magical internet. But like… why? Also that’s not in the text. Also there are repeated violations of both logic and common sense that get to be too glaring. Basic physics breaks, and timeline continuity (is it just a few days after the zombie apocalypse, or months later? Depends on what’s more convenient for the current scene!) Eventually the suspension of disbelief is simply overwhelmed by the realization that the author is just randomly pulling shit out of nowhere with no care about consistency or plausibility, and it destroys the enjoyment of the work.
Strong recommend of the first four chapters. After that, put it down. As a whole - not recommended. Which sucks to say, cuz I really love Shit Turd, and I would have loved to see him in a good story.
Book Club Review: I stopped reading halfway through. The rest of the book club confirmed that things continue this way, with an ending that feels especially ass-pully, even in light of the preceding work. Everyone loved ST. Hopefully Buxton’s next work will be better, it was a first novel after all. But due to the repetition, there isn’t too much to talk about after the initial delight re Shit Turd. Not Recommended.