Thank you NetGalley and The Parliament House Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat? (AMAZON)
Folklore is such a beautiful addition to any fantasy story. When properly used, you don't just have a tale with fantastical elements—now you have a tale that revolves around a people and their culture, their beliefs and practices, their fears and attempts to vanquish and conquer that fear, as well as the history of the lore itself and how it matured into the world of that story. That's what The Hollow Gods delivered.
First of all, A. J. Vrana has an ease to her writing style that made me get sucked into the book within a couple of chapters. Before I knew what hit me, I was fascinated and needed to know more. When given the time and attention that it deserves, The Hollow Gods flies by, and before you know it, you're done. There's more to this tale, there has to be, and I need to know it—that's how I find myself, abandoned after having finished.
With three POVs, we're given Kai, Emiliya and Mason to follow. Out of the three, Mason was the one that I had the most difficulty connecting to. There's a back and forth to his personality that got on my nerves sometimes, and I couldn't always pinpoint what he wanted. He clearly believes, despite what he says to himself, or he wouldn't be chasing around the town as he does. However, even when truth smacks him in the face he continues to deny that he should continue on the path that he's started traveling. Putting myself in his shoes, I would be slightly terrified, sure. But given the opportunity to delve into an in-depth world, curse, and myth, how could I not jump at the chance to follow that road and know more?
Kai and Miya are so much easier to become acquainted with. Kai has the sort of personality that I sometimes wish I owned in certain situations: he doesn't give a damn about appearances, could not care less about what people have to say or think about him, and he doesn't mince words. He's just absolutely brutal about it all, and for that I give him props. He doesn't live in a world in which he would survive were he any different. There is never an ounce of doubt on where Kai stands or how I felt about him. And Miya is rather similar. There's a slight ambivalence to her at the start, while dreams plague her and the Dreamwalker stalks, until she comes to terms with the fact that she simply does not belong where she is and needs to explore that. Taking Kai's hand and following him into the forest begins her and our awareness into who she is and where she should stand.
There seems to be an insta-love between these two, but that's smoke and mirrors (and that's not simply due to their past in other lives). Miya isn't so much blindly trusting of Kai as she is curious, and that curiosity leads her to see past his facade and into someone who slowly unfolds to accepting her back. There are two meetings between them before she moves fully into his domain, but they're well developed enough that I didn't feel them rushing into anything. From the get-go there's an obvious attraction, and if anything, I'm thankful for the fact that it's not surrendered to right away. Vrana portrays the warmth and heat in their relationship without making it the sole focus of the book. Thank you.
Where the meat really rests in this novel, however, is the legend surrounding Black Hollow.
Please be aware that things are not always going to be clear to the reader, and I don't think that they're meant to be. This is a fable that unfolds in the subconscious for a good portion of it, and as such, it is written to be full of meanings that do not easily pinpoint to answers unless we go further. This is, I think, my favorite part of this book: how real the mind of a person is written. The complexity and hesitancy that wraps around us in dreams—and for some, visions—only makes sense when we are willing to dig deeper. And the deeper you dig, oxymoronically, the more lost you become even as you find yourself in the end. That's the weaving of the story of the Dreamwalker and the plague that has owned Black Hollow and its people for years.
The Hollow Gods isn't “scary” or “horrific” in the common sense of the word. There are monsters, sure. And there are moments of terror, yes. But these are things that exist within the self a lot more so than outside of it. It's a theoretical sort of horror that deals with who one is and becomes very relatable a lot of the time. It's something that Emiliya has to experience for herself, and a quest on which we follow her from the start of the book.