Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: The Forest of Hands & Teeth

Carrie Ryan, 2009, Gollancz

Mary’s mother used to tell stories of the world before the Return, before the dead rose and civilisation fell; of a time before the Sisterhood, and the Guardians, and the fence that surrounds The Village, protecting the last human survivors from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But now Mary’s mother walks with the dead, and Mary is beginning to learn that the accepted truths of her world hide a multitude of secrets. Could there be life, after all, beyond the fence? Could the ocean be more than just a fantasy?

And when the fence is finally breached by the Unconsecrated, could Mary’s inability to choose between love and duty, between The Village and some imagined world beyond the forest, really spell the end of everything and everyone she has ever known?

The publishers of The Forest of Hands and Teeth have been actively likening this book to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, which makes a great deal of sense from a marketing point-of-view, but is really rather unfair to author Carrie Ryan, as The Forest of Hands and Teeth truly is so much better than Twilight on numerous levels.

Ryan has taken a familiar horror theme - the apocalyptic zombie tale – and refreshed it by setting Mary’s story several generations beyond the fall of civilisation, with an intriguing and exciting plot that never quite takes the expected path. The book is well written, the language concise and easy to read, for which readers should forgive the author’s occasional tendency to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. The characters – young adults, for the most part – are as realistically flawed as any teen you may meet, and never fall to stereotyping. Even the romantic element dominating the narrative is brilliantly handled, and here Ryan obviously has taken a leaf from Meyer’s book by depicting love and sex as being scary as all hell (an aspect of Twilight to which many attribute Meyer’s phenomenal success), tapping into the most fundamental of all teenage anxieties. However, Ryan tops Meyer by raising the stakes to truly horrifying levels, where the distractions posed by lust may not simply cause you to fall for the wrong guy, but could quite literally lead to the destruction of humanity.

Despite being categorised as a Young Adult novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth certainly doesn’t shy away from a quite adult level of both horror and sexuality, although in both cases far more is suggested (or at least understated) than actually shown. Nonetheless, this is a book I would recommend to anyone, adult or teen, regardless of whether their tastes run more to horror or to romance, or even just to great human drama.

No comments: