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Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Published by Grand Central Publishing on August 6, 2019

Hollow Kingdom is a funny, engaging look at animals, from the sarcastic (a crow) to the sweet (a bloodhound), who decide to help each other out after a zombie apocalypse. Humans aren’t necessarily zombies in the traditional sense, but they are drooling blood and behaving even more irrationally than usual. The behavior seems to be a side effect of living in the digital age, but since the story isn’t meant to be taken seriously, the absence of a credible explanation is unimportant. This is a story about compassionate animals, not stupid humans.

The main character, a crow named Shit Turd (S.T. for short), lives with Big Jim and a bloodhound named Dennis in Seattle. S.T. is concerned when Big Jim’s eyeball falls out and is even more concerned when Big Jim stops eating and starts walking endless laps in the basement, tracing his bloody finger against the wall. S.T. takes it upon himself to grab Dennis’ leash in his beak and lead the dog to safety — if safety can be found in an unsafe world — as he begins his search for Onida, a mollusk who has all the answers.

Collateral characters include a toy poodle named Winnie (the Poodle). She has been spoiled by her wealthy owner (the Walker) and, although Winnie is not a good dog and has often yearned to escape, she feels guilty when the Walker leaves the house and fails to return. After that, she just feels hungry. Back in Seattle, Genghis Cat has noticed the absence of cars and cheese while his Mediocre Servants spend all their time, yes, poking their bloody fingers against the walls. Genghis Cat has an attitude. Of course he does, he’s a cat. Other animals large and small play cameo roles.

I love the descriptive language that the animals use to describe other animals. To a bird, bear cubs are “fuzzy death potatoes.” To any predator, sparrows are “airborne pizza rolls.” From a Scottish cow’s perspective, a donkey is a “scabby wee fart lozenge.” Penguins are “shit-beaked Spam-gremlins,” although S.T. comes to appreciate them.

S.T. is saddened by the apparent end of the world, particularly by the thought that there will be no more Cheetos (his favorite food) or hot dog eating contests on ESPN. Civilization at its finest, all lost! Yet he embarks on a mission to free all the domestic pets who are locked inside their homes with no sane human to feed them. This turns out to be a difficult mission, in part because birds cannot open doors, in part because all the zoo animals have been set free and are making life difficult for everyone. The story gives S.T. a chance to learn the true nature of other animals and, more importantly, to discover some truths about himself.

The story is whacky and fun, but not all of it works. S.T.’s search for mystical entities distracts from the plot rather than contributing to it. Still, the clever prose and the amusing message — that animals are better than humans, if only because they stick together and realize the importance of not ruining the world — makes me give Hollow Kingdom a wildly grinning emoji. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dennis turns out to be the kind of endearing hero that dog lovers can’t help but appreciate.


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