Now was probably not a great time to read a novel about the zombie apocalypse set in Seattle, where the COVID-19 pandemic got started earlier this year. But after reading only the first page I knew I had to keep going because it was funny right off the bat. Shit Turd, the crow who relates this tale of The End, is horribly worried about his human best friend, Big Jim, whose eyeball falls out while they’re in the front yard with Dennis the bloodhound. The rest of the book is Shit Turd’s story, S.T. for short, The One Who Keeps as he begins a search for The One Who Opens Doors and the fight against The One Who Conquers.
For once I had no idea how the story was going to unfold. It was simple in structure, complicated in scope. And it never stopped being hilarious, to the point of me interrupting my partner’s day time and again to read aloud. And then we would laugh. Out loud. I didn’t share the gory stuff, of which there is quite a bit, it being a zombie novel, and a deeply poignant spot that made me tear up. Not one character goes through the book completely unscathed.
Hollow is how most animals refer to people. S.T. uses Big Jim’s word. With the MoFos* of the world out of commission, S.T. must learn how to survive in a hostile world without Cheetos® and full of animals he never learned to live with because he’s an honorary MoFo and above all that. His acerbic and always funny thoughts about “salacious squirrels”, “crass bunch of douche McGoos”(geese), “mob bosses of the ocean”(sea anemone), “strange and useless fake-ass birds”(penguins) peppers the pages like little bombs, along with his other MoFo-influenced beliefs.
There are other narrators occasionally, which gave the book a slight World War Z feel. Minnie the Poodle, a rich bitch with a diamond studded collar who lives with Spark Pug in her Walker’s mansion, is the only one to refer to herself in a “pretentious” third person. In another house, Genghis Cat almost misses his Mediocre Servants and ends his brief chapter, “You can fuck off now. I have nothing more to say to you.” There are short snips of how things are going from an Angus Bull in Scotland, a starving Polar Bear north of Alaska, and a 200 year old Spruce Tree (as translated by a Steller’s Jay). A Korean bird sounds the alarm for what I assumed to be a nuclear disaster. This is an aspect of The End that is almost never covered. In the real world nuclear power plants would fail within a week of being neglected. There’s also the massive oil slick that would soon surround the US from all the neglected sea-bound oil derricks littering the coast, but I try not to think about that, too. I won’t even mention kudzu.
My only problem with the book is one I often encounter in an apocalypse story. Writers will often age things incorrectly. It takes more than a month to nearly cover the MoFo world with ivy and bristle, unless you’re in a Central American jungle maybe. I was also concerned with how long Buxton had the MoFo’s electronics still working. Has anyone ever heard of an iPhone, still turned on, that has enough battery left to still light up and make noise a month later? Me neither.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel this consistently funny and with a great, truly unique premise. Buxton’s prose is beautiful and unfailingly entertaining. This book is in my top five favorite reads of all time, and I’ve read a lot of books in my long life. I can’t recommend this one enough and I hope you enjoy it as well as I did.
Hollow Kingdom trailer / Kira Jane Buxton
CFR: In Addition: When I first saw the title of this review I thought the story would be about a fantasy struggle for a kingdom. Maybe even involve some elves and orcs. Well I was sure wrong!
*Just in case you don’t know, MoFo has long been short for motherfucker. Now you can laugh at the funny.