It’s been a long journey from Dennis and S.T.’s house with Big Jim, to Kraai the crow, Migisi the eagle, The One Who Conquers, The Weavers, and The One Who Keeps. The world Kira Jane Buxton creates, at first glance of the back cover, feels magical, grotesque, intriguing. The characters introduced in the first few chapters: Genghis Cat, Winnie the Poodle, and those throughout, like the Humpback whales and a pack of wolves, are filled with personality and never really heard from again. There are so many unsatisfying things about this book, I’m not sure I can fit them in this one post. But I’ll try.
I’ve said before the plot is ingenious: a crow tells the story of how humankind fell. We learn about Aura, the way creatures of the Earth communicate with one another, and we learn how each of them sees humans, from S.T’s fantastical obsession with the resourcefulness of humans (or MoFo’s) to the murder of crow’s less than tasteful view of humans (or Hollows). It’s obvious that Buxton appreciates, loves, and admires animals. It’s a shame she can’t write.
But first, let’s talk about the GOOD things about Hollow Kingdom.
There are moments Buxton can actually write. The way she describes action–the crows attacking or getting away from danger–is quite realistic. She has a knack for metaphors. Each chapter is riddled with them (we’ll talk about that later), things like “Looking for signs of twisted limbs, hungry vermillion eyes, and neck bones with no rules,” or “Then it flattened its ears to its head and expelled a roar, a roar that tore through the bones of the building . . .” They are great for creating feeling and some are powerful imagery.
She’s also created a character. I wouldn’t consider S.T likable, but I wouldn’t consider him generic either. He has his own personality, and that personality just happens to harbor extremely cheesy catch phrases and a disturbing sense of loyalty to humanity. He is quite dedicated to first curing humanity and then to keeping Dennis alive and then to carrying out his life as a crow. His big character arc is finally realizing that he is indeed a crow with MoFo mannerisms, not a Mofo in a crow body. What should be a big turning point for S.T. is kind of washed away behind the reason humanity fell.
Unlike some commenters on Goodreads, I actually enjoyed the toast to nature. The trees, the animals, everything connected and communicating on their own wavelengths (Aura) sounds divine and certainly out of the range of abilities for humans; we’re quite incapable of communicating well, if 2020 has shown us anything. I think where Buxton falls short is the presentation of Aura.
Which brings us to:
Let’s start with how overwritten this book is. The metaphors. They’re great every once in a while, but when every page is riddled with at least ten or fifteen “pendulous trucks” and elephants that “smelled like churned soil and freedom” and an “ancient song of sorrow that the evergreens shook from their leaves” and “calling on the ocean with our breath,” it gets a little tedious. While those are all great descriptions, don’t get me wrong, imagine 304 pages of that, consistently, partnered with lines like “crumble-cheese turd burger” or “yard demolishing fuck trolls” or “pubic badger” or “you could have heard a dust mite queef in there” or “fuck off, you douche flute” or “butt-splosion of information” or “cheese cups, ass clubs” or “scrotum-sanitizing mouth” or any of the other cheesy lines that permeate this book. It reminds me of first-time writer workshop attendees who know that adjectives and metaphors and similes can often carry semi-good writing, so their pieces becomes soggy with figurative language.
Let’s talk about nictitating membranes, too. I’m fully aware that they are the part of birds that kind of slick across the eyeball in a blinking fashion. I’m also fully aware that Buxton personified a crow who doesn’t really see himself as a crow, so why would he regard his blinking as nictitating membranes licking his eyes or “make [his] nictitating membranes shut out the world momentarily?” Why can’t he just blink?
We’re also introduced to side characters like Genghis cat, Winnie the Poodle, A fairy Pitta, a polar bear, a spruce tree, an armadillo, a highland cow, a camel, an elephant, a humpback whale and a pack of wolves. We get a conclusion, sort of, on Genghis cat and Winnie the Poodle and the polar bear who is the last bear on the ice. In the beginning of the book it was whimsical, and I looked forward to hearing the view of the world through just a few side characters continuously, but that never happened and they sort of came out of nowhere throughout the book, breaking up the flow of the story. We get short bursts of personalities, but it doesn’t really add much to the plot, other than Genghis cat joining up with the Orangutan(aka The One Who Opens Doors). Winnie the Poodle dying only symbolizes there’s no humans left to help the domestic animals, and we already knew that.
What happened to the humans, after all? Well, we get some insight on that from Ghubari. He says, and prepare yourself, “it was a virus.” Not like AIDS or Ebola, but “mans creation” from “the internet.” He continues with, “. . . it started with the addiction. Technology was an intangible seductress, a siren calling for ships to meet her jagged rocks. It was a virus that spread through the systems, through the network, chips, watches, phones, tablets. Through eyes, skin, and synapses.”
So something within the technology seeped into the skin and changed everyone into Cassowaries and giant spiders.
I’m not kidding.
Buxton doesn’t refer to The Hideous Ones as Cassowaries, but they’re described as humans who now scream in “the language of a raptor.” They have “hideous skin and jet black holes where there must have been eyes” with “colossal legs propelling them to great heights, and they snapped and shrieked with breaks the color of death.” The weavers have mandibles and eight legs and some weird stuff is going on with them, they silk up other humans and animals and suck them dry, so I’m not sure what kind of computer virus can turn you into a spider, but that’s what we get, folks. The Weavers and The Hideous Ones are the result, according to Ghubari, of humans evolving, their “last-ditch effort at survival.”
To sum it up, S.T says, “addiction to an electronic world caused the downfall of the Mofos. They’d forgotten to connect with each other, to connect with the creatures who missed them and to Nature as She called for them to come home.”
Preachy, but we get it.
There’s nothing really ugly about this book, but because I started with “The Good” and “The Bad” it felt wrong not to put “The Ugly.”
I don’t believe any of the reviews on the front of this book. It wasn’t “hilarious” or “exuberant” or “movingly written.” It was “eh.”
I’ll be reading the sequel simply to bring you guys more Kira Jane Buxton. At the end of Hollow Kingdom, S.T is lead to a human baby in a house, abandoned obviously, and untouched by the technology-spider-cassowary virus. We obviously have to find out together whether there are other babies around the world, whether the human race survives, or whether the animals reclaim the world. I don’t really care which it is, I just have to know one or the other.
My next full review will be on The Morality Play. I’m almost finished with it.
What are you all reading this month?
Until Next Time
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