The Hollow Places – T Kingfisher

“Nobody ever believes me when I tell them my uncle Earl owns a museum.”

Following her divorce, Kara is invited to stay in the spare room of her uncle’s business, the Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities, and Taxidermy. She’s made of stronger stuff than me – or at least, grew up around the stuffed animals and all manner of oddities, to the point where they aren’t freaking her out every night. Even Kara has her limits, though, and they’re about to be tested.

When a hole is left – by a clumsy tourist, she assumes – in one of the museum’s walls, it turns out to lead to an impossible corridor, which in turn leads to an entirely otherworldly dimension. Too curious not to explore, despite their better judgement, Kara and neighbour Simon might have just made the worst mistake of their lives…

I confess I was far, far too much of a wuss to read T Kingfisher’s – the pen name for non-children’s book titles of the wonderful Ursula Vernon – previous book, The Twisted Ones, as all reports were that it was creepy as heck. I have so little tolerance for things that will keep me from sleeping these days! But UrsulaV is such a wonderful writer, and my own curiosity got the better of me. Thankfully, while extremely creepy, it wasn’t too nightmare-inducing and I found it to be deliciously appropriate for the spooky season – but then, I made well sure to only read it during the day time!

What I’ve always loved about the author’s storytelling is how down to earth it is, even as the most fantastical stuff starts to happen. Kara – or Carrot, as she’s nicknamed – is a refreshly normal heroine. She’s also slightly older, doesn’t have kids – in fact, having followed Ms Vernon on social media platforms for… urm, decades, wow… it was really cool seeing all manner of things slip into this book from her real life. Kara is a graphic designer, not illustrator, but the divorce, the age, the time spent in coffee shops, etc etc. There are also cool ‘easter eggs’ to her other work (written and artistic), such as the cane toads reference and the ‘illustration that ended up looking unintentionally phallic’, that just added an extra layer of smiles.

But you don’t have to ‘get’ any of that at all to be thoroughly transported into this story and the worlds it contains. The unnamed malevolence of the things they encounter, the shocking possibilities… it’s so vivid, so well told. And without giving too much away, it takes a direction portal fantasy doesn’t always, making those characters just all the more real.

I’d recommend reading this during daylight hours, and perhaps avoiding trees for a while, but oooh – I do recommend it!

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 3rd November 2020
Series: none
Read from 26th-30th October 2020

My rating: 10/10

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