Sunday, July 12, 2020

A Quirky Hero’s Journey in ‘Hollow Kingdom’


“Crows are harbingers of death and omens, good and bad, according to Big Jim according to Google. Midnight-winged tricksters associated with mystery, the occult, the unknown. The netherworld, wherever it is – Portland? We make people think of the deceased and super angsty poetry. Admittedly we don’t help the cause when we happily dine on fish guts in a landfill, but hey ho.”

I’ve read some quirky books this year but nothing nearly as inventive as “Hollow Kingdom,” by Kira Jane Buxton. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I gasped… this book has a lot of things going for it. Upon finishing, I set it aside and wondered, “What do I really think about this book?” So let me talk it out with you.

Our narrator is S.T., a domesticated crow living with a slobbering mess of a bloodhound named Dennis and Big Jim, the man who raised him. S.T. is worldly in the ways of humans. While we never hear from Big Jim, we know exactly what kind of a man he is since S.T.’s words and notions come directly from him. S.T calls humans “mofo’s” because that is what Big Jim calls people, not that S.T. has any idea the true human definition of a mofo. There are numerous examples of S.T.’s view of the world as seen through Big Jim and they are all quite funny. More importantly, S.T. absolutely idolizes Big Jim. He’s his dad, after all, and S.T. is happy to forgo his crow nature and be a free flying feathered pet to Big Jim.

Everything seems fine in the world until one day, Big Jim’s eyeball falls out. Things devolve pretty quickly from there, and soon Big Jim is a living zombie. Yep, it’s a zombie apocalypse, told through the eyes of a precocious crow. S.T. is desperate to find a cure for Big Jim but soon realizes it is impossible. So he and Dennis leave the only home they have known to see what is happening in the world, which in this case is downtown Seattle. And what is happening is frightening. Then one day, S.T. and Dennis discover a sweet little dog stuck inside a house, all alone and with no way out. It’s then S.T. finds his true calling; saving all the other “domestics” abandoned in their “hollow kingdoms,” waiting for a hero. This will require S.T. to start communicating with the other crows and animals in the area, something he has avoided his whole life.

There are so many books written about what happens to the things that humans have created once they are no longer around to maintain them. It’s no different here but instead of being told through survivors, we hear it from the animals and the trees. These chapters are poetic ruminations and a welcome counterpart to the acerbic language coming from S.T. Buxton has a penchant for being a bit heavy handed with the cleverness, piling a sentence with way too many cute quips on how animals interpret humans. This happens mostly in the beginning, though. Once S.T. and Dennis meet the other creatures and go on their quest, the over-the-top wittiness goes away. And some of those other creatures are fantastic! We meet a dangerous trio of tigers, a giant Pacific octopus named Onida and various murders of crows.

Were there times when the premise seemed a bit far-fetched? Yes (surprisingly not because of the talking crow). Did I forget about these misgivings by being caught up in the story? Yes again. “Hollow Kingdom” is a hero’s journey story and it delivers. Will some people be turned off by zombies and talking crows? Of course. I’m not a zombie book reader, either. But there was something about this novel that captivated me. Sure there are some plot holes, but I was happy to suspend belief and just go along for the ride. I liked “Hollow Kingdom.” So for anyone interested in a very different read, I leave you with this:

“Every single one of us, from amoeba to blue whale to the tenacious bloom that dares to dream of tomorrow, have their own destiny-fulfilling journey as long as their minds and hearts are open.”

Thank you for reading!

Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.

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