As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I absolutely loved Kira Jane Buxton’s Hollow Kingdom. It was one of my favorite books the year it came out. When I heard there was a sequel, I was torn between excited anticipation (some fangirl squeeing involved) and apprehension. Not only was Hollow Kingdom a wonderful book in itself, but it felt complete to me when I read it. Yes, there was the ending which left some things up in the air, but on the whole, I felt the book said what it wanted to say. We’ve all seen sequels to movies that really didn’t need sequels, some of which were so bad they actually made us rethink our liking for the original movie (The Matrix sequels come to mind, but of course there are others as well). I really didn’t want to be in that position with respect to Hollow Kingdom, but at the same time I couldn’t resist putting Feral Creatures on hold so I would be the first one to read our library’s copy.
The verdict? It’s a great book. Not, perhaps, quite as outstanding as Hollow Kingdom, but that book had the advantage of being the first, of creating the painful and beautiful world that begins after humanity self-destructs. That world is the background of Feral Creatures, so you don’t have the piercing joy of discovery. At the same time, Feral Creatures delves deeper into some of the questions the first book didn’t raise, and the author’s insights are powerful.
We are, once again, hearing the story from S.T., the formerly domesticated crow who was a witness to the end of humanity’s reign over the world. His position of straddling the two worlds, the wild and the human (or, as he refers to them, mofo’s) gave him insights that other creatures didn’t have, and made him the perfect narrator for the first book, and, as it turns out, for this one as well. S.T. is a great narrator, funny and observant, snarky and witty, and capable of deep feeling.
He’s in a unique position here: as the book opens, some time after the end of Hollow Kingdom, S.T. is raising what he believes to be the last undamaged Mofo, an Inuit girl he named Dee. With the help of a group of owls and other creatures, he’s trying to protect her and help her to grow up to be a human being. There are a couple of problems with this. One is that many of the wild creatures around them have reason to hate and fear all human beings, even innocent ones like Dee. Another is that, for all his love and energy and the urgency of his desire to bring Dee up right, S.T. is not human himself, and we mofos are social animals at heart. Without other human beings to teach her language and customs and culture, she is very unlikely to turn out to be an ordinary human.
Things have not gotten better in the years of Dee’s childhood and early adolescence. While we might have assumed from the way things were going at the end of Hollow Kingdom that the last mofos would die out in horrible ways, it turns out we can’t even go extinct right. Instead of the zombie-like creatures of the first book, the mofos now are evolving into different, and more horrible, creatures. The world is becoming more dangerous than ever for wild creatures, and S.T. and Dee have to leave their haven in Alaska and return to Seattle to fight for what’s left.
There’s plenty of adventure in the book, plenty of action, many wonderful characters (though not, perhaps, one to break your heart the way Dennis the dog did in the first book), but, as in Hollow Kingdom, there’s more going on than just adventure. As we watch Dee try to figure out what she is, we start questioning what’s essentially human about us. Are we doomed to violence? Is it possible to be a true human being and at the same time be connected to the earth and to nature? Dee is a figure of hope, as she was at the end of Hollow Kingdom, but she’s also a walking contradiction, and you ache for her, especially when she encounters the changed humans and realizes that they are — at least on some level — the same thing she is.
As S.T. desperately tries to protect his beloved Dee from the world the mofos have made, trying to make her human but not like the damaged humans, fighting against her animal nature at every step, you feel for him, especially if you’re a parent. Yes, S.T.’s situation is unique, but on some level all parents are trying to find that balance between protecting our children from the cruelties of the world and letting them grow into what they really are, even if what they really are isn’t what we expected them to be.
Should you read Feral Creatures if you liked Hollow Kingdom? Without a doubt. You will not be disappointed, and you will be moved. You should definitely read Hollow Kingdom first, of course, not just because this builds on the characters, situations and relationships of that book, but because it’s an excellent read in its own right. While the book is dark and sad in a lot of places, it is, ultimately, a hopeful book, suggesting that maybe, even if we blow it, we might get another chance to live properly in this world.