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The forest of hands and teeth - Carrie Ryan
I came across this book recently and as I had no other book on the go, I thought I would give it a go. The RRP is the average £6.99, though I picked it up from the library for nothing. I have to admit, the title did strike me as a little odd and for this sole reason, I nearly put the book back on the shelf, though the synopsis on the back did seem appealing.
In Mary's world there are simple truths
The Sisterhood always knows best
The Guardians will protect and serve
The Unconsecrated will never relent
Mary always knew that she must always mind the fence that surrounds the last living town in the world that protects the inhabitants from the forest of hands and feet, though slowly the truths are beginning to fail her. Mary starts learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the truths about the power which the Guardians hold, and through this, she learns just how relentless the Unconsecrated are.
It is not long before the fence is breached and Mary's world is thrown into chaos. She learns that she must choose between her village and her future, between the ones she loves and the one who loves her, and she must face the biggest truth of all. The truth about the forest of hands and feet and what other lies the Sisterhood might have kept from them all.
Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?
The story, although jumped straight into action, I felt was rather a slow start and this continued throughout a lot of the story. It moved along with such a slow pace, though about a quarter of the way through I felt compelled on and am glad that I hung on through the slow part of the book.
The storyline is fulfilling in many ways, though I think for many, it will lack any real feeling. Yes, there is emotion in the story though not enough to really touch the heart strings. The characters are above average with some great main characters which come out much better and more well rounded as the story continues.
I did not know how the ending would progress until I actually got there. It was suspenseful from half way through the book and it kept me wondering what would happen next though I would not say that it kept me excited until the end. I found the story interesting with some great parts, though I also found many parts rather drab, hence the excitement which was lacking as I reached the end. The ending seemed rather rushed, though it did round everything up well. I do find that it has been left open for a sequel, though in reading the synopsis for book two, it looks as though the second book takes on a whole different story rather than following Mary's story which is a shame.
I would not say that I loved this book, though I did enjoy the most part of it and would recommend giving it a try.
The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
IN MARY'S WORLD
There are small truths
Always knows best
Will protect and serve
Will never relent
Very rarely do I come across a book that I just can't put down, there are books that I am eager to get back to and books that I struggle to find an excuse not to read, but from the moment I picked this one up I just couldn't stop reading. I started it one morning and by the next morning I had finished it.
Initially, I was a little bit put off by the title - 'The forest of hands and teeth', I couldn't really imagine enjoying a zombie filled YA or it being anything other than a horror story, which I do like on occasion but only on occasion. I am so glad that I didn't let that put me off this book and in retrospect I actually think that the title works brilliantly with the novel.
Although this book is about Zombies or should I say the Unconsecrated, it is still a story of love and a journey of self discovery and the search for freedom in a world where too much freedom can be deadly. It does have some scary, tension filled moments that you would suspect from a book dealing with a world overtaken by the undead, but it definitely far from being only a horror story.
The main character, Mary, lives in a world that is limited by the barriers that protect her small village from the forest of hands and teeth, a vast forest that is filled with the Unconsecrated. Her small village is all that she has ever known, it is all that her mother has ever known and her grandmother before that. Since the great return - the apocalyptic event that initially turned most of the world's population into the undead, Mary's village is the last standing refuge of humanity.
However, Mary dreams of more. She dreams of the stories that her mother told her about the ocean, which she hopes is true but struggles to imagine how such a vast amount of salty water could ever exist. Therefore, when the unthinkable happens and her village is breached by the undead. Mary get's her chance to see what lies beyond the barriers that she has so desperately wanted to look past. However, sometimes the things you long for are not always what you want or what you hoped they would be.
I do have to mention that on occasion Mary did get a tad annoying with her sometimes selfish moaning about life not being entirely fair and her indecision to decide who she loved. She was also at times a little self pitying, but all that being said I did warm to her. She is a feisty, determined and stubborn character, but not entirely, you could still feel her fear and vulnerability. By the end of the book I liked her a lot, she knew the dangers of her world but yet she still chose to face them head on and live her life.
There were some great characters in this book, even some of the smaller characters such as the overbearing Sister Tabitha, who wasn't around all that much but had a big effect on Mary's life. I really liked the parts of the book about the sisterhood, I was on the edge of my seat wishing Mary onwards, delving into the Sisterhoods secrets to find out what exactly was going on.
The only characters that I did think where maybe a tad two dimensional were the male leads, they were at times a bit stereotypically portrayed. Neither of them really had me swooning around after them and they needed a bit more of Mary's backbone to go after what they wanted, rather than dragging their feet on one occasion to many.
Furthermore, there were also a few small details that I loved about this book, the chapters were all numbered using the roman numerical system. I won't tell you why, but these numbers play an important role within the story and it is a nice link to include them as a chapter heading. It did take me a little while to get back into the swing of reading them quickly to find out exactly what chapter I was on.
The ending was written well, it did leave me wanting more and I was thrilled to find out that this was part of a series rather than a standalone book. There were a few unanswered questions and I desperately wanted to know what had happened to some of the characters, but overall I felt like it was a good ending.
Personally, I wasn't taken with the cover of this book. I own the black hardback edition with the red flower and it just doesn't really do much for me. I don't necessarily pick books based on a cover alone, but lately there are just so many books with amazing cover designs that I do tend to pick those up first.
Four out of Five stars
Published by Gollancz (July 2009)
Hardback edition - 308 Pages (£9.99)
The series continues with - The dead tossed waves (released 2010) and then The dark and hollow places (released in hardback April 2011).
In complete contrast to The Beautiful Dead this book contains zombies that are truly terrifying. The ones that are only interested in eating you alive, the fresher the 'meat' the better. Chilling to the bone. I was slightly concerned about reading this, knowing my dislike of gore and vivid imagination, the threat of nightmares imminent. Although the book does contain shudder worthy imagery and some heart pounding moments, it doesn't just contain that element within the narrative. What I found was a pleasant *maybe not the correct choice of word for a zombie book* surprise.
Written in first person narrative from Mary's perspective. A young woman who has grown up in a tiny village in the middle of a large Forest filled with zombies. Isolated from the rest of the world, raised to follow the rules of The Sisterhood without question. This has been the way of the village for generations. However, Mary has been told tales passed down through the family of how the world used to be before the infection took place. These tales make her questions their way of life and ponder the possibility of other villages beyond the forest. She is especially drawn to the thought of the ocean. In my mind I equated the ocean as symbolism for freedom.
The descriptions and imagery within the narrative are extremely vivid and detailed. The movie I had playing within my imagination had to be toned down to accommodate my dislike of gore.
The plot starts at the point where Mary losses both her parents at different times to the infection. The story deals with her relationship with her brother, which implodes upon her mothers death. I can totally relate to this. Due to my own experiences I found this aspect very upsetting, no way did I expect to be shedding tears when reading about zombies. I found Mary's treatment at the hands of her brother and the 2 male romantic interests, Travis and Harry completely appalling. I just could not understand why they would behave in such a manner when they were supposed to care about her.
I found the descriptions and actions of The Sisterhood very scary. I their own way they were just as frightening as the zombies. They ran the village as a dictatorship, allowing no freedom of thought or action. I could understand in part that this was mainly for the protection of the villagers; but it was taken to extremes with the Sisterhood justifying atrocious acts under the guise of protection. They appeared intoxicated with the power they held over the villagers. The snippets of the history behind the village really whetted my appetite to find out more about the causes of the infection and whether anything could be done to stop it.
The narrative was filled with heart pounding agitation. Adrenaline pumping tension seemed to jump right out of the pages. I had to force myself to put the book down in order to go to sleep. My stomach literally turned with panic at one point (no spoilers).
I had the feeling after getting to know Mary via the narrative, that she was one of these people that would never be truly happy. She would always be searching for something. For her the search for happiness would be as elusive as finding the end of a rainbow. By the end of the book I came to the conclusion that I just did not like Mary. I found her shallow and self-centred. I was left pondering as to how many people she was willing to sacrifice in order to achieve her own goals.
This book for me was a *pleasant* surprise as regards to the plot, not just terrifying zombies but relationships, family and the quest for happiness all woven together into a compelling page turning read.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is author Carrie Ryan's full length YA novel. The paperback was published on 1st March 2010 by Gollancz (Orion Books) and it is 336 pages long. The sequel, The Dead Tossed Waves is already available and the third book, The Dark and Hollow places is due for release on 7th April.
The world has changed. No longer is it a civilised place but somewhere overrun by the Unconsecrated. Mary's little village runs using a few simple rules. The Sisterhood knows what's best for everyone, the Guardians protect the village and the Unconsecrated are a race that you should definitely be afraid of.
The only thing protecting the village from the Unconsecrated is a fence, one that separates the village from The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Mary is beginning to realise that everything is not as it appears to be and that the Sisterhood are keeping secrets from everyone. The fence is breached and the village is in complete chaos. Will she be able to figure out what is really happening before it is too late? Are there any other survivors? Does the ocean really exist? Mary has a long way to go before she can find out!
What I thought
I was not expecting everything that I got out of this book. Yes, I knew it was about zombies but if you go into this only thinking that, you are in for one hell of a surprise.
Carrie Ryan has created a world that is utterly terrifying. If the world being taken over by zombies wasn't enough, being surrounded by the zombies is. I cant imagine what fear the villagers felt in that situation, although Ryan did a wonderful job of explaining how they felt. If I had been in that situation, I don't know if I would have been able to cope. People always ask questions about what you would do if zombies took over the world and I think I would cower in a corner in probably die of shock or something. I don't think I would be able to be very sensible at all.
Mary was a great character. Never does she believe that their village is the only thing that exists. As a child, her mother told her stories about the ocean and since then, Mary has always known that there is more. No matter what the Sisterhood told her, Mary was never ready to give up what she really believed in, even if it meant going against all of their rules. Even when Mary was distraught about certain things, her strength and determination still shined through. It sometimes looked as if she was beginning to give up on everything that she had ever wanted but then it was like a light bulb went on in her head and she changed her mind. Mary is definitely a fighter and I loved her for that.
Even though the village is not in favour of love, The Forest of Hands and Teeth is also a wonderful, romantic story. Mary has known for a long time that she has loved Travis. His brother, Harry seems to love her. Mary's best friend Cass seems to love Harry. It's all quite messy to be honest but in no way, is it complicated. Mary's feelings for Travis are clear from the very beginning and although Harry was nice, I couldn't help but route for this couple. Their journey and discovery of each other is not plain sailing (as if it could be with zombies around!) but it was lovely to read about. The hope that they give each other was heart-warming and I think they both needed that just to survive at times.
What I wasn't expecting was to feel so many different emotions with this book. At times, I wanted to cheer for the characters, hoping that they would make it to their final destination and be happy. I felt sadness for some of their losses and I have to say, I cried at one point. Not quite the normal thing for a zombie book in my eyes. I didn't mind though. These different feelings just added to my amazement and joy while reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
This book isn't just about trying to survive a zombie invasion. It is also a story about self discovery, adventure and love and loss. I haven't read many books about zombies yet but this is a series I will keep reading until the very end.
There was a time, in the not so distant past, when the idea of reading anything concerning zombies would have had me wrinkling my nose in distaste and running for the prettiest, pinkest book I could find. A sworn girly chick lit fan, I'd presumed that it would be nothing but tacky, bloodthirsty gore and not something I'd enjoy at all - no thank you. Then I picked up Carrie Ryan's debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and was proven completely wrong.
Set in an unspecified time in the future where zombies (or in this case, the unconsecrated as they are called) have overrun the world , Mary's village appears to be the home of the last survivors of the human race. Protected by a fence separating them from the forest beyond where it's believed nothing but the Unconsecrated exist, very little is remembered of life before the sickness which sees the dead return. But Mary's mother has memories, passed down from her many great grandmothers and in turn has passed them onto Mary. One in particular captures her imagination and longing, the Ocean. When the safety of the fence is breached and the village falls to the Unconsecrated, it's this longing that drives Mary to survive, but is she prepared to do so at the risk of her own family and loved ones. What if the memories passed onto her by her mother are nothing more than stories and there really isn't anything beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth?
Despite having reservations I was hooked by The Forest of Hands and Teeth from the very first page. Carrie Ryan's rhythmic and tragic writing style completely captured me and drew me in. I found the harsh and desolate world she creates in the village completely believable and the constant threat of The Unconsecrated tense and menacing. The Sisterhood, a religious sect who govern the village, add a mysterious dimension and gave the village an almost cult like feel, making me wonder at times whether the threat to the survivors wasn't only from the outside.
The book is told in a first person point of view from Mary and I found I really connected with her, even when I couldn't understand or agree with her motives. She's unwilling to accept that there's nothing other than their village and the unconsecrated, and yearns for an ocean she doesn't even know for sure exists anymore. At times her desperation to seek more is selfish and driven, putting the lives of others at risk. She's not always likeable but she is admirable. Imagine if the pioneers from our past hadn't taken that risk to step into uncharted territories? We wouldn't have the world we have now. I imagine they must have been something like Mary, focused and determined in their belief that there is something more, even at the cost of others and their own lives. There's also a love triangle between Mary and brothers Harold and Travis which I thought was beautifully and realistically written and the flaws and weaknesses it reveals in Mary make her all the more believable and convincing as a character.
Having never read a zombie book before, I wasn't sure really what to expect from The Unconsecrated. They are truly terrifying; their constant threatening presence is menacing and gripping. Yet at the same time I felt sorry for them. I guess I was expecting evil and senseless violence, and don't get me wrong they are horrific in their one and only quest to seek out humans and kill. However becoming unconsecrated is like an illness, a plague. In one scene early on in the book, we see the transformation of one of Mary's family into unconsecrated and it's heartbreaking. There is something shockingly tortured and pitiful about Carrie Ryan's living dead, which makes the book all the more haunting.
While overall I was completely awed and won over by The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I do have a small niggle. I'd have liked to know more about The Sisterhood and what they were all about. They are cloaked in mystery and clearly know more than they are letting on, yet once the village is breached they are forgotten and we never find out what it is they hide and why. I felt this was a loose strand that was never tied up and left me with many questions when I turned the last page. Perhaps this is a thread Carrie Ryan picks up in follow up books, The Dead Tossed Waves (released earlier this year and which I have yet to read) and The Dark and Hollow Places (due for release in March 2011)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth pretty much blew me away and completely changed my opinion on Zombie books. It certainly isn't a pleasant, fun read, as it's very dark and tragic. But it is always gripping and Ryan's beautiful prose captured me emotionally and had me hooked throughout. I finished the book in less than a day and couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards. Mary's fight for survival and determination to find more makes her an admirable character and her flaws give her real depth. Most of all I was completely convinced by Carrie Ryan's world of the Unconsecrated, something I hadn't believed I would when I set out. I'm glad I gave this book a chance and I'm now a convert to zombies and will be looking out for more!
In contrast to the vampire-loving world that fiction has created recently, "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" returns us to a life that is, although not normal, fighting against things that would appear unnatural to the human way of life. When up against flesh devouring zombies returning from the dead, the book focuses on survival of the fittest, human relationships and beating evil rather than embracing anything different - such as vampires! This certainly made an interesting change for me after reading so many vamp books where the hero and heroines are in awe of vampires. I never thought I would read a zombie book however - I wouldn't even watch a zombie film I'd be too scared - so I guess I have the vampire craze to thank (or to blame) for that!
In this book, the author Carrie Ryan has created a world where zombies (or the unconsecrated as they are referred to in the book) are commonplace. The setting for this story is many years after the "outbreak", a way of life has settled over human survivors somewhere in a small village in America. By creating this world after the outbreak, the author is able to show how the unconsecrated has established a pattern, religion and a way of life for the humans still living.
The main character, Mary is a young woman who lives in a village that is fenced off from the un-dead who roam the forest of the book title. Beyond the village, it is believed by most is nothing; only the forest which goes on forever and so the inhabitants stay within their confines, believing in the Sisterhood who tell them there is nothing out there but to wander the earth with the un-dead. Due to this, the villagers live in fear of succumbing to the zombies and believe in the scripture as taught by the sisterhood as well as trying to carry on the life blood of humans within their family.
Mary on the other hand has different ideas of what lies after the forest. Her mother has always told her stories of the ocean before the return of the dead. When her mother is infected and her brother Jed turns his back on her, Mary is sent into the sisterhood. But all is about to change, as she realises that the Sisterhood have held more secrets back about what lies beyond the Forest. An outsider has come through the gates, and when the fence is breached, Mary has a decision to make - will she risk everything for the stories she has been told?
It is incredible how much this book put me in mind of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaids Tale". Similar to this book (one of my all time favourites I might add) the reader is taken to a world that is in the future; where something has happened that has created a dystopian society. The fear and superstition in the village Is rife and so religious beliefs and cults have a strong hold on the inhabitants.
Like Offred in The Handmaids Tale, Mary and young women in the village have a similar choice to make to ensure the continuation of the human race; healthy young woman are asked by the healthy young men in the village to marry - and the fate of any woman not asked into courtship and then marriage is to join the sisterhood - there are no other options. Religion and the almost cult like attitude in the village is extremely reminiscent of "The Handmaids Tale" -future worlds in both books grasping on to a belief system to carry them through a world that is so different from the fairly carefree world the reader knows in our society.
Even Mary herself is a character to rival Offred at times. Her belief that there is more to her life outside the fenced village is very much like Offreds determination to escape her life as a handmaid. The first person perspective of Mary is one that is extremely captivating; constantly grappling with her need to escape the confines of her village but trapped due to the responsibility to her people and the way of life she must lead to keep herself safe. Added to this, Mary has a battle similar to that of her feelings of flight versus responsibility; desperately in love with Travis, but betrothed to marry his brother Harry, she knows she must do what is right - marry Harry and give him children, but her need for something more in life tempts her towards her passion for Travis. She is a determined and strong protagonist who is a joy to read about and who I imagine doesn't fit the stereotypical mould of the heroine in a zombie book!
As I have briefly mentioned, there is a romantic element to the book which will please the supposed target audience for this book (young adults), but although there is a strong thread throughout the book which makes Mary's decisions over choosing Harry or Travis interesting reading, it isn't the main pull in the book and therefore doesn't ruin the main thread of the story which is about Mary finding out her escape from what she feels is a prison in her village. I like the romantic element contained, but it wasn't one that was overly interesting and I didn't care too much how it worked out romantically for Mary.
Part of the draw to this story and what compelled me to read on was how vague the explanations are when describing the zombie outbreak. Once again, setting the story far into the future serves as a good way of not having to describe how it came about, we only know that this life of theirs is an upturned life as we know it when Mary talks of the story that have been passed down from her great great great Grandmother and it is then that we get a sense that this great great great Grandmother probably lived in our times now! In this way, it is easy to believe that the truth about the unconsecrated as just been eroded over time and it helps to understand why such a strict system of beliefs are in place in Mary's world now.
One thing that is actually familiar to me even as a non- zombie film or book lover is the appearance of the zombies - they are the usual stereotypical slow walking creatures not only looking like they are dead but smell like it too! They are literally falling apart at the seams, and constantly follow the scent of humans in a hope that they will get close enough to bite.
The whole tale really is an interesting one about a post-apocalyptic world overrun with Zombies (as weird as that seems). It may be that I liked this tale for its close associations with The Handmaids Tale but I enjoyed reading about the characters within this strange world, their belief systems and their relationships with each other. Not only that, Mary's plight also made me want to read on to see what was on the other side of the Forest and whether Mary and her friends would escape their doomed life in the village.
Overall I enjoyed this book immensely, and Mary and her story has crossed my mind now and again since finishing it. It is a refreshing change from vampire saturation and I've already noticed that "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" is the first in a series of books focussing on the unconsecrated in this future world. Already, I have read the beginning excerpt to the follow up, "The Dead Tossed Waves" which has me intrigued as it appears to follow on from Mary's story through her family line and there are also rumours that this book will be made into a film.
Judging by a couple of new teen reads which have recently fallen into my hands the trend for the undead seems to be changing focus from vampires to zombies and, for those with a taste for the gory, this new book is a pretty good place to start.
It begins in a small village in the middle of a forest where Mary lives with her mother and brother. Their life is lived with the constant fear of the 'Unconsecrated', those who have crossed the boundries of the village and been change. Among these is Mary's father and another gruesome and tragic loss early on in the book changes her life forever.
Protecting the villagers from those beyond are the Guardians and the Sisterhood but, as Mary soon begins to learn, all is not what it seems and she begins to discover that there are secrets being kept by those she used to trust.
This was a pretty good read and I certainly would recommend it but there were a couple of niggles for me. The story flows along quite smoothly and moves the characters forward but I sometimes felt that it all went a bit fast - there was a lot that was obviously introduced to be resolved in a later book but I sometimes felt that not enough was made of the mysteries and unanswered questions in the story, they just sort of flitted by, almost as a distraction, and didn't really leave me wondering of wanting more. The characters were ok and I did like the pace of the story but, again, found the ending a bit of a let down and don't really see myself returning to the next one when it comes out.
Overall, then, a pretty good read for teens who like this sort of thing but not the best. If you have a tast for zombie stories it might be better to wait for the new Charlie Higson (The Enemy - excellent stuff, review to follow!) and perhaps give this one a miss.