Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Author: Carrie Ryan.
Page Count/Book Type: Hardcover, 320 pages.
In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future — between the one she loves and the one who loves her.
And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?
(How many comma-splices are there in this blurb? IT’S LIKE A GAME).
It shouldn’t take a lot to keep my interest up when a book has zombies in it; I love me some zombies. I really loved this book to start off with too, unfortunately about a hundred pages from the end my enjoyment took a dramatic dive off a cliff. It starts out well written and thought provoking (in as much as thinking about the zombie apocalypse and I think about that more than is probably normal anyway), I liked the setting, I liked the style and I was interested to see where the story was going and what the significance of the fences and paths was. Mary was the undoing of this novel for me, her selfish behaviour and her inability to to satisfied with anything she had (even when it was something she had supposedly been desiring passionately for weeks if not months) reached the point where I could find nothing redeeming about her and the excuse of her being a teenager wore completely thin. For me there needs to be some growth of character in these types of novels, the protagonist should discover something about themselves as they discover the world around them or through their interactions with the characters around them, but Mary stagnates and it truly hits home that she has not changed or grown a single bit about two-hundred and fifty pages in.
From then on I just wanted to finish the book and find out what happened and sadly I was disappointed again. The end is vague and boring, the novels goes out with a whimper rather than a scream and in a zombie book? You expect a scream. It was the right place to end the novel in my opinion but not at all the right way. It was handled lazily. The moment where I ought to have been feeling a rush of relief and hopefulness for Mary was overshadowed by the fact that she had sold everyone up the river to get to that point. All I could think about was what an awful person she had become, how the journey through the novel instead of building her up and making her into a strong, brave young woman had only reduced her to a selfish little girl and someone I would have gladly seen eaten by the Unconsecrated.
There were moments where I teared up while reading this, though. Most of the emotion came from secondary characters, namely Jed and his wife Beth, and Travis, one of Mary’s love interests. Jed was perhaps the most defined character for me, even Travis’ characteristics were wishy-washy for most of the novel and now that I think about it I could not tell you much about anyone’s appearance; Cass has blonde hair, Mary brown and Travis has green eyes. That’s all I’ve got. The depth was missing for the characters for me and I wouldn’t have minded that so much if the story had propelled itself in a different direction, a better direction. I would have been able to enjoy the ride but all I can think about having finished the novel is how much I dislike Mary and how much I wish the other characters had been given more time to shine.
Notice that I mentioned love interests, plural. That’s right, we’re entering Twilight territory here, folks. I would usually never be so cruel as to compare a novel to Twilight and I don’t draw these parallels lightly. Marys is, in many ways, like Bella Swan; she is self-serving and unable to think of other people’s emotions most of the time let alone place them before her own. However because this book is infinitely better written I was willing to forgive those traits early on; she’s a teenager after all, of course she’s a bit selfish. It’s the lack of growth that turns her into Bella Swan 2.0 for me, she doesn’t learn from her mistakes and she never ever takes the high road, placing the feelings and safety of her brother and the man she loves above her own. Then we have the fact that two men fall in love with her. That’s fine, I don’t mind a good love triangle but I do place my emphasis on the good part. Much like Jacob/Bella/Edward I cannot fathom why it is these boys fall for Mary. In the end they both pay for it in their own ways which I will admit is an improvement on the way things turn out for Jacob and Edward (full body shudder as I recall Breaking Dawn).
It would take me too long to list all the unfinished plot-lines, too. There are many, many things that Ryan never fully explains and that definitely becomes frustrating. What I think she was trying to do was hint at the answers and let the reader take the final jump but she’s much too vague about it and while I could take a stab at a guess and probably be right, I don’t think there are quite enough nudges in the right direction to make it comfortable to do so. This is a very unfortunate thing, as I think had she followed through on these things the story would have been a lot more rich and full.
All that said I would be tempted to pick up the second novel in the series: The Dead-Tossed Waves. Partly because it has a cool name and partly because I would love for Ryan to redeem the ending of the first novel with a killer encore. Of course I have a habit of inflicting terrible books on myself out of stubbornness, so we’ll see how that goes.