(2009) Carrie Ryan, Gollancz, £9.99, hrdbk, 309 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09084-2
Okay, let us get this out of the way first, The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a zombie novel. You might have guessed that already, or heard it on the grapevine. It is the first of a trilogy, with the The Dead-Tossed Waves coming out next year. It is also a young-adult novel, something else that might not be apparent from the way it is packaged, but there is a definite Twilight look to the novel, must be the black and red cover. I have to admit to being a bit of a zombie fan, in film and in print, although I prefer mine to be at what I term 'the cusp', just when society is starting to crumble against the numbers of rising and walking, and chomping, dead. Think of the opening scenes of George Romeroís Dawn of the Dead as the two policemen decide to leave the city, or think of some of the stories in Steve Jonesí Mammoth Book of Zombies, or Skipp and Spectorís Book of the Dead series. But this is different, this is not the beginning of the rise of the zombies, or even trying to hold back the march of the zombies. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set generations after the zombies rose and kept rising, and took over the world, in what is called the Return. Mary lives in a village in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, and for all she knows, or anyone else does either, they might be all thatís left of humanity. Stuck within the confines of the village, Mary dreams of another life beyond the fence that separates her people from the Unconsecrated. She dreams of the ocean her mother has told her about. She dreams of her father who walked into the forest and was never seen again. Ensuring the future of the community is the most important thing, duty over love. Mary loves Travis, but it is his brother, Harry, who wants to marry her. Then disaster strikes. Maryís mother is bitten by a zombie and so Mary finds herself being looked after by the Sisterhood who rule the village. Once, under their wing, Mary discovers secrets that will force her to make some tough choices. Can she remain in the village, under the regime of the Sisters, orÖ
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is well written, poetic, perhaps over-written in places, but donít expect a gore-fest from the start, it is not that sort of book. It is a slow-burner as Maryís world is built up, and the relationships are laid out, but it does pick up momentum as it goes along and races to the climax, and the inevitable sequel. Everything is told from Maryís viewpoint which might forgive some of the sketchy characterisation in places, and glossed over facts about the village itself. How has it managed to survive for generations? Maybe the survival sums do not add up, but be like Mary and donít think about that too much. Reading this, you canít help think about the movie The Village and parts of Romeroís Day of the Dead, but all comparisons end there, I think, as Ryan strikes out for new territory. All in all a good, different addition to the zombie canon.
Here is Jonathan's take on The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
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