When the end of the world is here, turn to a crow.
The Hollow Kingdom tells the story of a zombie apocalypse (think The Walking Dead, or, perhaps more aptly, 28 Days Later) from the perspective of those left behind—this time not of human survivors, but of animals—wild and domesticated alike—who once again have the chance to thrive…if they can survive the wake of what humanity has left behind. Narrated primary by S.T., a domesticated crow who’s simultaneously naïve about humans and in possession of a brutal sense of humor about them, in Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel it is animals who are left to remind us about the beauty of a world without the (often disastrous) impact of mankind.
Set in Seattle, S.T. and his canine companion—a dosey bloodhound by the name of Dennis—must venture out into the wild unknown when their owner, Big Jim, succumbs to the technology-induced plague that has wiped out humans. Along the way, S.T. must accept and come to know the part of himself that he has long ignored—the fact that he is a wild-thing himself—and shake free the “clipped wings” of his life as a pet to find his place in a very different new world. Along the way, S.T., Dennis, and a series of pawed, clawed, and tentacled companions come to rediscover a much-changed Seattle, one where the natural order of things has broken free of humanity’s shackles: zoo animals bring the wild to pets who’ve escaped alive; the trees speak with renewed voices (“Life is not the same once you’ve learned just how deeply a tree can feel.”); and we witness firsthand both the glorious and the gory of what happens when Mother Nature is free to flourish without interference. “When the spirit of a species leaves us, it doesn’t go easily.” (The story is also speckled with Seattle landmarks, pop culture references, and some really interesting animal biases. Sorry, penguins.)
Buxton's story about the collapse of mankind—a consequence of our ongoing and generally unhealthy love affair with technology—though based around the extinction of man is not your average zombie story. It's less a story about the end of the world as we know it, as it is a call to liberate ourselves from our own domestication, much like that which S.T. and his companions face. It’s a critical look at the impact the human ego has had on the environment and the cost we’ll leave to future inhabitants, human or otherwise, to pay. And, it’s told from the perspective of a life force we’ve caged as wholly as we’ve caged ourselves, making it a poignant portrayal of the beauty we fail to see around us on an everyday basis as well as a stark glimpse of the future we are already carving out for ourselves.
For all its sharp edges and gritty no-punches-pulled humor, Hollow Kingdom is a remarkably tender story that manages to make you feel just a tiny jealous of the resilient cast of characters that have survived humanities apocalypse. It’s a magnum opus on environmental degradation, an expose on the impact of technological dependency, and—above all else—a testament to the bizarre and indelicate beauty of rewilding. (And, I would be remiss without adding, it is the single most beautiful ode to the infallible and unconditional companionship of dog I might have ever read.)
S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.
Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies--from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim's loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis--fail to cure Big Jim's debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity's extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.
Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.