House of Hollow
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐
"Seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow has always been strange. Something happened to her and her two older sisters when they were children, something they can’t quite remember but that left each of them with an identical half-moon scar at the base of their throats.
Iris has spent most of her teenage years trying to avoid the weirdness that sticks to her like tar. But when her eldest sister, Grey, goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Iris learns just how weird her life can get: horned men start shadowing her, a corpse falls out of her sister’s ceiling, and ugly, impossible memories start to twist their way to the forefront of her mind.
As Iris retraces Grey’s last known footsteps and follows the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs she left behind, it becomes apparent that the only way to save her sister is to decipher the mystery of what happened to them as children.
The closer Iris gets to the truth, the closer she comes to understanding that the answer is dark and dangerous – and that Grey has been keeping a terrible secret from her for years."
House of Hollow is a standalone fantasy horror novel by Krystal Sutherland.
I will preface by saying that I almost ended up DNFing this at the 17% mark, but kept going because I was still curious as to how it ended. In the end, did I think this was a bad book, no, but I was left extremely underwhelmed. This book just didn't go the distance for me as I felt like a lot of the elements were not fleshed out enough.
This review is going to include a spoiler section at the end as, in order to fully go into how I felt about this book, I need to go into spoilers. If you don't want to be spoiled, you can stop reading once you see the bolded heading. This is also going to be a pretty in-depth (and long) review, so you might want to grab a snack or some milk in case this gets a little spicy.
Overall the writing was fine and was easy to read, but some minor elements bothered me a bit. For the most part, it was a typical YA writing style, but in the very beginning, the writing was rather poetic at points. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it didn't quite fit the tone of the book and felt out of place especially considering the fact that that style was not used again for the rest of the book. Sentences like 'I set off into the predawn winter cold' sounded more awkward than beautiful.
My only other issue, to be a bit nit-picky, was the use (or overuse) of the word 'ugh'. Unless it's in reference to the BTS song, I really don't need for Tyler to constantly repeat the word every chance he gets as it got rather annoying.
Right from the start, you get the sense that something isn't quite right about the Hollow sisters. At a young age, they disappeared only to reappear with white hair, black eyes, and no memory of what happened. An interesting plot in theory, but its intrigue is also its downfall. For the entirety of the book, you are aware of their unnatural nature, so it doesn't really catch you by surprise when all questions are answered in the end. It is rather frustrating as well that for some reason they know that they are different but they don't question why they are that way.
It is also pretty easy to catch onto what the mystery is as there are blatantly obvious hints given along the way. This also makes the reading experience frustrating, as it isn't very fun when the audience already knows what going to happen but the main character remains oblivious.
There were small weird anecdotes added to the plot that didn't really add much to the narrative. Things like going into detail about the Somerton man because he was Grey's inspiration to stitch pieces of paper into her designs. I like a good true crime story but this felt like a waste of space. This is also me being a bit nitpicky though.
While this had the potential to have some good creepy atmosphere, I wished it dialed a bit more into the body horror and overall creepiness. The setting for the latter half of the book was very reminiscent of the upside-down from Stranger Things. Not a bad thing per se, but because it reminded me of that the creepy factor went down for me.
I will give some credit though as, while the ending wasn't surprising, it did go in a direction I wasn't thinking of. Still though, the ending wasn't dragged out enough, and more time should have been spent building up the suspense and creating a tense and creepy atmosphere. The final also ended too quickly which made it
a bit anticlimactic.
I had some...issues with the characters. You follow the three Hollow sisters (Iris, Vivi, and Grey) with Iris being the perspective the story is told through. I found their relationship to be at best a bit odd and at most extremely uncomfortable. Due to the way the relationship between the sisters is described, with Iris being strangely infatuated with Grey, it sounded borderline incestuous the entire time. Whether or not that was the intention on the author's part, it wasn't exactly the best vibes to be getting...
One of the first things Iris says about Grey is that she wanted to skin her and wear her because she was so beautiful. She even intentionally took a hammer to her pinky because Grey broke hers and wanted her to do the same. The lengths she would go for Grey were alarming and made me uncomfortable. It is kind of hard to read a story about sisters when their relationship kind of creeps you out. I also found that they didn't really feel like sisters as we didn't really get to see their sisterly bond, only their creepy bond.
Another thing that made me uncomfortable was the abilities they had. Their abilities granted them the power to compel people, whether it be by accidentally making people lust after them or by intentionally manipulating them (usually through kissing as well). I don't like the fact that not only did they manipulate people, but a large amount of the ability rests on the fact that it is non-consensual as well. I am not here for making people do things against their will and knowledge. Grey and Vivi were also not fazed at all and used their powers without fail to get what they wanted. This definitely did not help the character's likeability for me.
Moving onto each sister, they each were more or less a typical stereotype. Grey is a vixen who uses her sexuality and abilities to get what she wants, Vivi is the rebel goth who hates men, and Iris is the boring one who wants to be normal. Let's start with our main character, Iris. There are two main reasons why I didn't really like her character, the first being that I feel like not enough time was spent fully fleshing her out. We don't really get to know much about her besides her relationship with her sisters, and she didn't feel like a 17-year-old.
The second reason why I didn't particularly like her was because I found her to be rather frustrating. She just could not for the life of her realize that something wasn't quite right with her and her sisters. At one point she was even asked what about her made her seem different, and she replied that she didn't know...like really? Were the change in eye colour and the strange abilities, not a dead giveaway?
Onto Vivi and Grey, I don't know how to feel about them. I didn't mind Vivi's personality, but I wish that she was more present. I don't know if it was because she was the middle sister and was the odd one out as Iris and Grey had a stronger connection, but I wanted to know and see more of her. As for Grey, I really don't know whether or not she was supposed to be a sympathetic character for reasons I will discuss in the spoiler section. She just wasn't portrayed as a very good person, so I didn't care to see her character develop.
Now, let's talk about whom I like to call the Styles of the book, Tyler. Tyler is a British-Korean model who dated Grey and was described as being famous for his gender blurring fashion. First of all, as someone who listens to Kpop, it is really not all that uncommon for Koreans to dress in gender-neutral clothes, so Tyler isn't very unique in my eyes.
Second of all, I felt like the author did him dirty. He felt very much so like a background character who was only there to throw in some witty one-liners. Hence why I call him the Styles of the book (though Styles will always be the superior sarcastic character). I will talk more about why he wasn't used very well in the spoiler section.
The final character I wanted to talk about is the bull skull man. There was some potential there for him to be an interesting and sinister character, but that died down a bit in the beginning when you find out that this guy is carrying a gun. Makes sense for a normal person to be doing so, but instead of making him more menacing, it humanized him which I don't think was the impact I was looking for. I also thought that the reveal of what was under the mask, while it did make sense, simply made me go 'oh, well okay then, and then I moved on.
Overall, I wished that the book took the time to really dive into the characters. Not enough time was spent getting to know them so that by the time I reached the end, I didn't care enough about them to worry about what was going to happen to them. The only person I had any sympathy for really was Cate, and Tyler to an extent.
My final verdict, could have been worse but also could have been a lot better. As this is, for now at least, a standalone novel, I think it definitely should have been longer in order to really dive into the story and the characters and to maximize the story's potential. We didn't really get a lot of time to get to know the characters and by the end of the book, I didn't really care about them at all. If it was a bit longer as well, it could have allowed for better pacing and a less rushed ending.
Warning - This Section Contains Spoilers - Read At Your Discretion
All right, time to buckle down and get into the details. Let's first start with the plot, shall we? As I said earlier, the hints gave away everything. So many hints that eventually lead to an unsatisfactorily obvious ending. There is, of course, the change in appearance, the insatiable appetite, and new abilities that is the dead giveaway that the sisters aren't exactly human.
Then we have Gabe (the father) knowing that his kids are no longer his kids, and Cate (the mother) refusing to allow them to call her mother because she also knew that they were not her daughters.
Several times throughout the book as well, Cate had made it obvious that she did not want to be around Grey and told Iris to get away from her as well.
Now let's talk characters, starting with Grey. Her character went in a direction I wasn't expecting, and I liked my prediction way better than what ended up happening. Right from the start, you know that something is wrong with Grey in particular. When Grey went missing, I honestly thought the whole thing was one big plot that she contrived in order to get the sisters to go back to the Halfway for some sinister reason. Because of the way she was portrayed, I thought she was the big bad and that the skull man was doing her bidding.
Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when it turns out that she was a victim and not the perpetrator (even though victim is the last word I would use to describe her). There were hints of the story possibly going in that direction as, for one, Grey liked mysteries so it wouldn't be a surprise that she would make herself a missing persons case. One of her favourite books as well was a practical guide for runes, and Vivi and Iris found a dead body that was covered in ruins. To me, it was all spelling out to be one big setup.
I would have rather her be the big bad because I didn't like the forced sympathy you are made to feel for her. She was not a good person especially considering the fact that she butchered and skinned three little girls to wear them as meat suits and assume their lives, and for what she did to her parental figures. For anyone curious, she also forced Gabe to kill himself because he was onto her, and told Cate the gruesome truth about what happened to her daughters. She may have not been the villain, be she wasn't a good person by no means, and her excuse of trying to make amends bothered me.
Moving onto Tyler and why the author did him dirty. As I said earlier on, his character wasn't used very well. He didn't really feel like he belonged in the story, like he was there but didn't have a strong enough presence. I also felt like the only reason he was there, besides being the sarcastic side character, was the add some tragedy. In order to find Vivi and Grey who are taken by the bull skull man, Tyler joins Iris on her journey into the Halfway, and doesn't make it back out. What makes it worse was that he was killed off-page... It felt very much like a sympathy grab and made his character arc redundant. At the least, more time should have been spent with him in order to make an impact on his death.
Iris as a character was frustrating because of her obliviousness in not realizing that they weren't normal and also for her almost deification of Grey. Maybe it was because Grey had some kind of hold on her, but the signs were all there that she wasn't a good person, and she couldn't see past her love for her. When Grey put her hands around Cate's neck and said something so disturbing for her to slap her and tell her to never come back, she thought what Cate did was indefensible but didn't think twice about what Grey did. The entire book I was screaming at Iris to read the signs and get a clue.
As for the ending of the book, after they all make it back (except for Tyler of course who is now dead), Vivi and Iris decide to go back into the Halfway in case there is a chance that Tyler can be saved. Now, I don't like open endings, so I wasn't very pleased with this epilogue. This is part of the reason why I wanted the book to be longer so that the story of them going back could be included should this continue to be a standalone. By having an epilogue like that, it makes the story seem unfinished and also leaves you with the feeling of unsatisfaction.