The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
After closing THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, I sat there for a minute trying to decide whether or not I liked it. I know I didn't love it, but in the Goodreads realm, was it a one-star effort ("didn't like it") or a three-star effort ("liked it")? I settled for two stars.
I should warn you that this review contains some spoilers.
Like some other Goodreads reviewers, I was intrigued by the introduction and the first 30 pages or so, but then the book started trying to do too much while supplying the reader with too little. I would have enjoyed less of Mary's inner woe-is-me musings--Mary being the protagonist and first person narrator--and more history, explanation, and character development. Midway through the book, I didn't like Mary at all, and three-quarters into it, I was convinced she was insane and completely self-absorbed (in fact, she was). So, it's hard to get behind a character like that and feel much sympathy, as most of the time Mary was the manufacturer of her own tragedy, zombies aside.
Author Carrie Ryan has created a world that is intriguing and raises a lot of questions which I think will impel readers to continue to the end, as I did, but unfortunately she provides very few answers. I was left with more questions than ever as I finished the final page and felt kind of perturbed. I think I might have even murmured, "What the hell?" as I snapped it shut.
Unsatisfactory ending aside, there are some other odd flaws worth mentioning. Sometimes the writing is quite good, but at other times it's ambiguous and fails to describe the action adequately. She would have entire conversations happen while it seemed other characters nearby were frozen in time. Often I wondered if the Unconsecrated (zombies) were present at all, until a few tossed-in words would place them nearby. An awkward phrase stood out to me at one point: "My breath came in pants..." and I read this a few times over, willing it to say "I panted..." so I wouldn't keep conjuring images of someone's actual breath wearing a pair of pleated dockers.
The situational mechanics were also sometimes confusing. For example, is it possible to make a rope out of dresses and gowns and other similar garments that is light enough to be shot across a significant span with a crossbow bolt and tied off, but then sturdy enough to pulley a barrel across that contained a girl and a dog (which I imagine weighed a total of, say, 215 lbs.)?
Another gaff that bothered me: The Sisterhood vehemently preached faith in God to the residents of the village, and Mary was forced to become rather familiar with reading the Scripture. So why did no one understand the meaning of Roman numerals? "XIV" and such was a type of mysterious marker throughout the novel. I suppose over time this form of numeric citation may have been lost, but it smacked just a little weak to me. I think it may have been more fitting if Ryan had used Hebrew numerals, which are certainly more cryptic.
In retrospect, I feel frustrated that THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH had so much to offer with its intriguing premise, but just didn't live up to its potential. Meghan on Goodreads gave it one star, Amber Kizer gave it four stars, and both of them raise other questions I had, but rather than repeat them, I suggest you read their reviews by visiting the book's Goodreads page and scrolling down.
I understand that Ryan's sequel, THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES, answers some of these questions. Since I was "grabbed" enough by THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH'S setting (despite the unlikeable protagonist), I've decided I'll skim a copy and determine if it's worth giving this series one more shot to win me over.
We shall see.
For now: Two stars (out of five).
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