This was unlike anything I have read before. As a starting point, think of all those kids movies where unlikely animal pairs head off on journeys of survival. Then make it for adult audiences and set it during a zombie apocalypse with a fresh twist. That’ll get you close to Hollow Kingdom
First of all, the book is quite funny in places. Our heroic crow, S.T., has been raised with a very specific view of what it means to be human, and this view fills the narration with amusing perspective and keen insights into human life. Crass and self-confident, seeing the world through the eyes of S.T. and the other animals provides a very fresh approach to the zombie genre.
And the other animals are a key part of this novel as well. Buxton writes some fantastic side chapters in the voices of a diverse and wacky cast of non-human characters. She expertly captures these voices to great effect as they watch the downfall of human civilization and struggle to find their places in the new world. These animals are well-realized and vibrant, filling the world of the novel with community, with conflict, and with characters it is easy to root for.
The thematic nature of the novel strays toward being on the nose in a few places, but Buxton ultimately finds a careful place between thematic concept and immediate plot. The world she paints is harsh and painful. The book has places of horror and heartbreak, but its core is one of hope. And this also helps set the novel apart from other apocalyptic stories. Running through Hollow Kingdom is a current of life and celebration of the things that are beautiful and good in the world. It is not a story of gloom and despair–though these are conditions which occur–but it is a story of belief that life is worth living despite the difficulties.
With Hollow Kingdom Buxton brings fresh life into a sub-genre with a broad existing body of work. The pervasively humorous and hopeful tone rests over a story that is part cautionary tale part fable. It is a fitting book for our current times–speaking directly to some of the dangers we currently face, while also offering belief in hope and life. Buxton is a true talent, and Hollow Kingdom is a great achievement.