Back when I first read The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I was sorely disappointed by how much of a romance the story was. I wanted zombie action, not romantic angst. Now, I realize this is my fault for not thoroughly checking up on the book before buying it, but it made me hesitate before reading The Dead-Tossed Waves. Perhaps it was a stronger book, or perhaps I just knew what I was in for, but I ended up enjoying that much more. Still, the memory of The Forest of Hands and Teeth lurked and I waited awhile before picking up The Dark and Hollow Places - would it be more like Forest or Waves? And was I really in the mood for any sort of romance story anyway?
Annah is alone in the Dark City. A place that promised safety after she and Elias were lost in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, the forest where they abandoned her sister. And now Elias has apparently abandoned her, as he should have returned from his tour with the Recruiters months ago.
If he's still alive.
Just as Annah has convinced herself that the City is no longer the place for her, as she is about to literally cross the bridge that will take her out of the City, an apparent miracle happens: her sister is here! And she's brought a mysterious boy with her, a boy the Recruiters want desperately, and who the Unconsecrated ignore like he's one of their own: Catcher.
As an unforgiving Horde bears down upon the City Annah was once so ready to abandon, Annah must look inside herself to understand what it means to have family and friends, and to what lengths its acceptable to go to keep safe what - and who - is precious to you.
One thing I've found very interesting as this trio of novels has progressed, is the way the settings have changed. When a series is exploring the end of the world, the usual progression is to go from largely populated areas to smaller, as the population is decimated. Here the progression is the opposite, as The Forest of Hands and Teeth was set initially in a very small village and then saw the village attacked by the Unconsecrated, leaving just our handful of protagonist to wander the dangerous Forest. The Dead-Tossed Waves brought us to Vista, a small town with knowledge that they aren't the last people on Earth, as there are the Recruiters working to keep the population safe and wandering bands of religious fanatics that see the zombies as something akin to holy icons. The Dark and Hollow Places gives us our biggest setting yet - the burnt out husk of a once thriving city (and Ryan leaves just enough clues that savvy readers will figure out what city it is well before Annah does). The actual scope of these stories has remained the same; there's no sprawling cast of characters to keep track of and the zombies are merely a dramatic backdrop against which romantic melodramas play out.
So how does this story compare to Forest and Waves? In terms of my personal enjoyment, I think it'd be in the middle of the three books. Of the three protagonists Ryan has given us (and as an aside, I love that this is a series that gives multiple view points, rather than contriving a way for Mary from Forest to have all of these experiences herself), Gabry is my favorite. She's just so normal. She's totally fine with the status quo in Vista and doesn't feel the need to wander that Mary did. Annah doesn't have much of a status quo to either support or rebel against, and ends up feeling like a very reactionary character for me, after her first big independent decision to leave the City is immediately reversed.