Review: The Hollow Gods by A.J. Vrana (The Chaos Cycle Duology #1)

the hollow godsWhat is the Hollow Gods About?

Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?


Hello again dear reader or listener!

Today I bring you a review without a rating. Yep. That’s right. No rating. I have quite frankly no idea how to even begin rating this book. No stars or numbers can explain or equate my feelings about this novel even though I have wracked my brain for hours trying to decide. So, in the immortal words of Captain Jack Sparrow:

Gentlemen… I wash my hands of this weirdness
I will just say my thing and leave as I came.

The Hollow Gods is an adult fantasy horror novel with an incredibly intriguing premise dealing with a small town and mysteries plaguing it. Is it actually supernaturally cursed by an evil spirit kidnapping women with the aid of vicious wolves? Or do its inhabitants suffer from mass hysteria on the regular and turn on each other at random? That’s what Mason, one of the three main protagonists, tries to figure out as he finds himself in this otherwise quaint and normal town when trying to take respite from the weight of hospital work. Meanwhile Miya a struggling uni student who lives in Black Hollow, realizes she might be the next woman led into the woods even as she doesn’t want to give in to her town’s superstitions. Finally, we have Kai, a foul-mouthed and spectacularly cranky wolf shifter who knows spirits are very true and very big pains in his (occasionally furry) ass, even if he doesn’t yet know why they haunt him in particular, tying him to the dying and disappearing women.

As I am gearing up to get into another fully horror novel, I thought this would be a great way to ease myself back into a genre I used to love but hadn’t really enjoyed in a while and, for the most part, Vrana succeeded in creating an eerie setting, with very atmospheric writing and an overall intriguing plot that unfolded slowly and strung my curiosity along at a good, if perhaps a little sedate, pace. Initially that is, and only when in regard to the main mystery plot, as for example there is a romance subplot that while suitably cute and wholesome, felt a smidge rushed and insta-lovey without much preamble. This is a bit of a nit pick to be fair, since the end reveal sort of explains the bases for it, and the present love subplot (as opposed to one in the past) doesn’t have that much bearing in the overall plot in any case. But it still nagged at me a tad.

In any case, the other horror and suspense elements where well done I thought, even if not that scary to me, but then again, night terrors and sleep paralysis demons are insanely cool/fascinating to me personally so I might not be the best judge for what is and isn’t scary. So, let’s say that there are many instances of suitably eerie and unsettling happenings which not only add to the ambiance but also to the unreliability of the protagonists’ mental states. Furthermore, Miya is an insomniac with depression and anxiety, Kai is possessed by a demonic spirit that talks to him, affects his actions, and mocks him on the regular, and Mason is grieving the loss of his first cancer patient because of his mistakes so he is near obsessively looking to distract himself with the town’s fables and superstitions. So really, they are all very much not having a good time. And through all this, Vrana weaves the lives of each of his protagonists together in an interesting manner that starts by showing how they each begin tangential to each other and then slowly knit together significantly. I also liked how, often, the author would pick up the scene of his next pov from a few moments before the end of the previous one thus making the transition between them more seamless.

Moreover, one of the things I liked the most in this book was the fact that Vrana never “forgets” that Kai is first and foremost a wolf that can turn into a human. The thing is, with a lot of shifter stories, these characters behave entirely human aside from like one or two of the cool traits that are kept for wow factor, dramatic moments, or comic relief, such as occasionally mentioning their heightened senses or throwing in some questionable behavior that is excused or explained with things like ‘oh they’re overprotective cause pack mentality’ and what not. This can often be pretty superficial and a bit of a cliché round in other words. Whereas in Vrana’s story there is legit wolf behavior all the time, in their mannerisms and little gestures, or in way they move or react to certain things, how their survival instincts work, without ever falling into a lot of the common misconceptions that exist about wolves. All of which really showing that the author either spent time with actual wolves or researching them a lot, while also not feeling the need to polish Kai so much as to make him a more likeable or affable protagonist.

In fact, in addition to all the wolfy traits, his directness, standoffishness, matter of fact attitude, and overall extreme crankiness and free for all no qualms swearing made him my favorite character. He felt the most genuine and well developed of the three protagonists for it. Mason appears pretty grounded as the more rational and external to the weirdness character of the three, with his plotline being the easiest to follow too. As for Miya, you feel for her and her struggle to remain tethered, but at the same time she somehow also felt a tad one dimensional most of the time, which is a shame as she could’ve been so much more and for all intents and purposes is supposed to be the most central of the three. Also there’s a sassy raven named Kafka whose whole deal seems to be existing purely to create questions and doubts.

Now then, here is where things go off the rails in my beleaguered brain, so apologies in advance. Put bluntly, a big chunk of this novel confused the hell out of me. I had so many questions from the get-go and that is all well and good, that is the whole point after all, but as I got to the end, a lot of these (and an argument can be made as to them being way too many) remained unanswered. While I am aware that this is a duology and I definitely will be reading the sequel, The Echoed Realm, hoping for more clarity and to conclude the story, I cannot help but feel like there were a lot of things missing or a lot of doors opened without then being closed reasonably, making for one drafty house, so to speak. In other words, while its foundation is definitely solid and its walls and roof are all where they should, there are way too many gaps in between fissures and planks. Look at that complete metaphor right there, pat on the shoulder for Eleni.

In truth, past a certain point, the only clear and straightforward bits of the plot were those which dealt with the origins of the town’s fable etc., with the right touch of the nostalgic and definitely very tragic, fitting within its genre. But that’s about were the clarity ends. Otherwise, there is action, fighting, dream-walking, lots of talking in riddles or with pretty melodramatic one-liners, and finally several fade to black moments whose later explanations only gave me even more questions. Oh and character’s whose existence and backgrounds are simply not explained at all. They just sort of appear, do their mysterious and cool thing, confuse the reader and protags a ton more and then leave.

Yeah. I am lost.

And yet I cannot help but still be curious to continue and see if maybe I’ll understand things better with the sequel, even though there is no actual indication that the next book will bring any answers. In a bit of an absurdity, in this story full of gaps and openings, there is no evidence that any of the loose threads will be tied. The book just ends sort of abruptly, even if somewhat tenderly, leaving the reeling reader to try and pick up the pieces of all the things that happened in a rush in the last 30% of the story, while also not being entirely certain that some things did happen? For example, I’m pretty sure the villain is thwarted buuuut I have no freaking clue how Miya was responsible for it other than some vague epiphany about herself?

I just… help? Can somebody read this and then help me understand?

So there you have it dear reader or listener, I read a book with several things that I enjoyed in it and lots of promise but that ultimately left me severely confused and befuddled to say the least. And I nonetheless want more?! Do with that what you will.

Until next time,
Eleni A. E.

P.S: here’s a screenshot from the book that made me laugh for a solid two minutes because reasons.

Check Out the Original Review Here

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