Title: The Hollow Gods
Author: A.J. Varna
Pub. Date: July 28, 2020
A perfect story for contemporary fantasy readers who love their narratives razor-sharp and their secrets dark and deadly.
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?
This will be a spoiler free review. Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve been sitting on writing the review for this book for days, because honestly, I don’t know how I feel.
This book was just…I must be missing something.
I don’t understand how it has over a 4.0 rating on Goodreads. I don’t get what people see in this book. Between the weirdly formal, trying to be intelligent, stiff writing, the unlikable characters, and feeling like this was like 5 different story ideas rolled into one, it just didn’t do it for me.
Like, at all.
I thought that maybe sitting on it for a couple days, my opinion would change, but honestly, I’m still just like,
I found that as I was reading, I was barely retaining any information from prior chapters. I just kept reading – an upside to this book is that it’s a quick read, despite the weird formal AF writing. It felt really Purple Prose-y, with big words, big adjectives, but what I don’t understand is the lack of atmosphere. For all these descriptors, the world felt plain, and the town felt spooky because we’re told it’s spooky, not because the image created lends towards actually spookiness – does that make sense?
My brain can’t make sense of this book. I’m actually a bit frustrated because wtf, it shouldn’t be this hard to write a review for this book.
This book tried to combine wolf shifters, reincarnation, dream realities, alternate realities and God/Godlike beings and evil spirit possessions, but that’s a lot. And all while being this weird mix of contemporary, fantasy and paranormal, and I don’t think it really worked. It’s just so much to pack into a 400-page story, where plot elements introduced in the beginning, play no large roll to the story at hand. All while trying to sound intelligent, formal and stiff, where we’re told everything and shown very little. This book felt like it was written, as if the author was being paid more for each convoluted adjective used in this book.
I don’t think the author executed this as well as it could have been, and it just leaves you confused.
Don’t even get my started on the cast of characters. Other than the freaking crazy ass town people, you have the 3 main POV’s, Miya, Kai and Mason, and none are incredibly likeable. Their feelings, fears and other emotions might be grounded in a real exploration of emotions, but I just couldn’t connect.
Miya is pretty annoying. I didn’t really care for her POV. She felt like a child pretending to be a grown up, but not willing to accept responsibility, or even try to be a contributing member of society. Her whole personality felt like a teenager rebelling against her parents and it grated. A lot of the information we’re given about her in the beginning of the book plays like no part to the overall story, so what’s the point in including it? Also, I have a hard time believing that no one was willing to help out Miya as she was struggling, except for her landlady, who was there for her, but also vaguely threatening to kick her out? Miya spends so much time alone, left with her thoughts and her fears and her perceived failings, and no one offers to help her.
As much as I didn’t like her, Mason was by far the worst of the POVs.
Like, holy hell.
He was a pretentious know it all who was condescending and demeaning towards people. He thought himself elevated because “I’m a Doctor”. The way he thought and viewed the world bordered on obnoxious and a little sexist. I think you’re supposed to feel sorry for him, because he wanted to try and save a terminal cancer patient, and he ultimately killed her, but in reality, I didn’t. I’m also assuming this guy is maybe in his late 20’s early 30’s, it’s never really specified – he’s however (on average) you have to be to be in your last year of an Oncology Fellowship – but the way he talks, and his internal monologue feels decades older? But physically, he’s supposed to look young and handsome, which makes me think he’s supposed to be a young adult. I just don’t know.
The medical terminology used in this book felt like it came right out of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy – a lot of big, pretty, official words that felt like they had no meaning. It just felt like a reiteration of medical jargon being used to sound professional, without feeling professional.
And then we have Kai, a wolf shifter – which I’ll come back to in a moment – and his crass, dangerous, leave me alone attitude. I didn’t hate Kai’s POVs, and he’s probably my favorite in this book, but the bar’s pretty low. He’s legit a Lone Wolf – figuratively and literally. He does whatever he can to survive, and that often means hurting others. Then there’s the relationship between Kai and Miya and it was cringe – lots of awkward dialogue and insta-love connection bs. I mean, I get it with the overarching plot of the story, why they have such a connection, but half of their interactions felt like dialogue from those fake porn movies you see in movies. It just left you with secondhand embarrassment and so much cringe.
Usually I’m all for moody, bad boy types, and if they’re in Paranormal books, throw in a shifter ability that turns them into the Protective Alpha, but shit, every time Kai did that, it felt awkward as hell, and the growling…yeah, no.
But let’s touch on the wolf-shifter element of the story. In a world that seems to be plagued by a Dreamwalker, who apparently steals young women over the course of this town’s history, how do we get wolf-shifters?
I’m going to apologize for this one spoiler, but there’s a moment where Kai is telling Miya about his past, and how he comes from Scandinavia or something, and he says something like, “we’re not accepted there”…so are wolf shifter’s like public, common knowledge? And if they are, then how the fuck does he stay secret? I don’t understand!
Honestly, I don’t know what else to say, because I’m still so fucking confused about this book. I want to understand what I’m missing, but on the other hand, I’m ready to put this in my review as a book that just wasn’t for me. If you think you might like it, feel free to check it out, but I’m not outright recommending this. So, I’m ending this here, and maybe I’ll read book 2, just to see how it ends (even though I don’t know how there can be a second one with the way this ended), but I’m not holding my breath or anxiously anticipating it or anything.