The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Pray they are hungry.

Kara finds the words in the mysterious bunker that she’s discovered behind a hole in the wall of her uncle’s house. Freshly divorced and living back at home, Kara now becomes obsessed with these cryptic words and starts exploring this peculiar area—only to discover that it holds portals to countless alternate realities. But these places are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts…and the more one fears them, the stronger they become.

With her distinctive “delightfully fresh and subversive” (SF Bluestocking) prose and the strange, sinister wonder found in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Hollow Places is another compelling and white-knuckled horror novel that you won’t be able to put down.

TITLE: The Hollow Places
AUTHOR: T. Kingfisher
PUBLISHER: Gallery / Saga Press
YEAR: 2020
LENGTH: 352 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Horror

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s).

THE HOLLOW PLACES is a horror novel where the comforting place is the museum full of taxidermy and the sight of willows strikes genuine fear and terror. Some things are worse than dying.

I love the friendship between Simon and Kara. It begins with banter developed by two people who saw each other casually in public, then slowly was permeated by the strange intimacy of sharing the same secret terrors. The world-building is great, I like the contrast between the museum and the willow world. Spending so much time in the museum before the bizarre events begin helps make the museum and its strangeness feel cozy and safe. The willow world hangs in this balance that drives terror both in what is actually shown and what its existence implies. I care about content warnings and I'm genuinely impressed by how creepy this was with so little that required specific warnings. It builds horror in the gap between what's expected and what actually happens, and while that's by no means new in horror, it's done with great care and precision so that I could never quite relax when it was quiet. The creepiness builds slowly, with a few specific moments that were terrifying. That time in between where things are a bit off but nothing extremely traumatizing is happening are so essential to the difference between reading a story about someone having a very bad time, and having a book make me so stressed that I have a bad time too.

It's masterfully written so that guessing the cause early does nothing to stop the horror and actually makes the anticipation even more stressful. So much of what I loved in its little details would be spoilers to describe, but suffice it to say that the explanations about the nature of the monsters and the cause of the strangeness helped my curiosity but maintained my worries for the characters.  I loved this, and I'm adding T. Kingfisher to a small but growing list of authors that make me feel safe while reading horror, a genre that until recently I've had a hard time getting into. 

CW for ableism (challenged), toxic relationship, medical content, gore, body horror, violence, animal death (taxidermy), death.

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