The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads:
In Mary’s world there are simple truths.
The Sisterhood always knows best.
The Guardians will protect and serve.
The Unconsecrated will never relent.
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.
Now, she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?
For the most part, I enjoyed this book. The story was interesting, there was a lot of action, and there was a bit of a twist at the end that I really liked. However, there were aspects of the story that just didn’t do it for me.
First, the stuff I liked: the setting. The story begins in Mary’s village, which is run by a religous order called The Sisterhood. The village is surrounded by a fence, and is protected by The Guardians, who answer to The Sisterhood. Outside of the fence is a seemingly endless forest, filled with the Unconsecrated (zombies!). The fence is the only thing keeping them out of the village. There are two gates leading out of the village but no one knows where they go. The Sisterhood has taught everyone that there is nothing but forest and the Unconsecrated beyond the village, and that the people in the village are the only ones left.
I liked that the setting was not a typical post-apocalyptic zombie filled metropolis. This is not a modern, contemporary setting. The village is rustic and this setting contributed to the image of the village as totally isolated.
I also liked the way the zombies are introduced to the story in that it is just a way of life for Mary and the villagers. They have never known a time without the Unconsecrated, and everything about them is just matter of fact. The way the author describes life in the village, with the constant presence of the Unconsecrated moaning on the other side of the fences, created such a spooky and almost claustrophobic atmosphere. I thought that was very well done. I also liked that they were not actually called zombies (I don’t even think that word was used at all in the book).
I also liked that the village life was based on religion and that the zombies were seen as un-sacred. When someone in the village was bitten by one, the choices were to either be killed immediately, before zombifying (‘Returning’), or to be sent out into the forest to carry on as an Unconsecrated. I also liked that Mary begins to question the existence of God and the rule of the Sisterhood. It was very believable to me that a girl her age, having experienced the death of her parents, would begin to question things that she had previously accepted without a second thought.
There is some romantic stuff that was kind of annoying. Mary is betrothed to one boy (Henry) but loves his brother (Travis), who is betrothed to her best friend (Cass). Eeks. I had a hard time believing that she was so in love with someone who apparently didn’t pay much attention to her, especially when Mary began to take some big risks to see this guy. I was definitely rolling my eyes at some of the ‘romantic’ passages.
However, (SPOILER ALERT) the story takes an interesting turn when there is a breach at the fences and the Unconsecrated swarm the village, led by one girl dubbed The Fast One by the Sisterhood, as she moves much much faster than the other zombies. Mary had seen this girl, named Gabrielle, when she was ‘alive’, in the Cathedral where the Sisterhood live, and realizes that she had come from another village – there may be others outside her village after all. This sort of rocks her world. There are implications that perhaps the Sisterhood had something to do with Gabrielle becoming an Unconsecrated, but before Mary can learn any more, the fence is breached and the Unconsecrated are attacking the village.
Mary ends up going through one of the gates with Cass, Henry, Travis, and her brother Jed, his wife Beth, and Jacob, a boy from the village. Together, they slowly journey down this path, and this is where I’m going to stop revealing anything about the plot! If you want to know more, you’ll have to read it yourself.
I wasn’t expecting the book to be so full of action, and I thought the book would just be about life in the village – I really wasn’t expecting the breach to happen, at least not so early in the story. It was almost like two stories: the first, about Mary’s life in the village, and the second, about their journey beyond the village, so that was a pleasant surprise. In fact, I got so hooked, I read the whole thing in one day.
Apparently this is the first in a trilogy. I have already got the second book, The Dead Tossed Waves, on my To Be Read list. Although the romantic stuff really irked me, I enjoyed this book. The good outweighed the bad for me, and although I wasn’t initially sure if this is a book I would recommend, after reflecting on it to write this post, I do recommend it.