The Forest of Hands & Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Series: The Forest of Hands & Teeth #1
Genre: Dystopia, Romance, Zombies, Horror Young-Adult
Published: July 2009 by Gollancz
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 about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, 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?
The Forest of Hands & Teeth was an interesting read for me. I don’t read that many zombie books nor do I really read that many dystopia type books, so I was curious to what Ryan would do. Frankly I had a very much love/hate relationship with this book. I agonized reading it over the plot direction, the decisions of the protagonist Mary and the heartbreak and then I’d put it down and yearn to read more. Quite clearly Ryan has a book that hooks and that cannot remain down for long, or not infinitely anyway because she makes you want this book resolved.
I’ll begin with Mary our protagonist who we follow for the story. She is selfish, annoying, deluded and most of all she is blinded by the unknown that she cannot see what is before her until it is lost. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if within the first two chapters she had been bitten by a zombie and rampaged around and eaten everybody. Unfortunately, I am sorry to disappoint you, this does not happen for one second. She is not bitten, nor does she rampage… as a zombie at least. Still, the plot wouldn’t quite be the same which does hold some real strength. It’s just Mary was not a character I liked nor one I tried to like after she failed to impress me.
One point that is not in Mary’s favour that probably didn’t help me is the world she lives in. The Sisters who are basically nuns control the village, they are the law, the leaders and they have the knowledge and the secrets. The Sisters are rather creepy and whilst they lord over the village, they surprisingly make it a very sexist society. Do not expect to find women’s rights being waved in your face because the Sisters have a plan for women. Have them married, get them to have babies, have them care for the babies, have more babies and so on until they die… This is the basic plot of what the Sisters expect from the women of the village and for those that fail to do that… well… who knows if their history was ever written down or they join the Sisters.
“You are a Bound woman now, Mary. And you have a duty to your husband, to God and this village. It is time to own up to that duty, Mary. It is time you stopped playing by the fences.”
Despite the Sisters forcing the women into such roles, they were a fantastically creepy, twisted and mysterious group of women who I was definitely curious about. Without a doubt Ryan has created a warped group of ‘do-gooders’ who believe they are working for the best of the village and it fits generally into the typical expectation of a post-apocalyptic/dystopia novel that somebody must be attempting to ‘save the race’ although badly. However, I thought that Ryan took a rather original tone to the Sisters and they didn’t seem to feel like they’re own living breathing entity that I could generally see existing in the world.
I have to admit, I found that there were some very cute moments in this novel and despite the rather heart-breaking and torturous moments of the novel, the deaths and all the zombies and gore, I thought Ryan interspersed a few moments to detract from the depressive tone of the novel. And the perfect way to do this is bring a fluffy bundle of puppy!
“The dog tumbles to the floor and runs in a few circles and then comes and wiggles over my feet, its tail sweeping items off a low table nearby. “A wedding present for you, Mary,” he says, dipping his face a bit as if embarrassed.”
Now there are two main men in the novel. Harry and Travis. Yes.. I see your thoughts travelling directly to a big ol’ love triangle.
This actually pretty much perfectly sums up the relationships in The Forest of Hands & Teeth and it makes me tempted to not really call it a love triangle because Mary never really loves one of the love interest and the one she is in ‘love’ with, she never truly commits to for most of the novel. The moments in which we do have romance though touched me and I found myself awwwing a little bit.
“He pulls my face toward him, his lips brushing mine, and then he places my head against his shoulder. His arms wrap rightly around me and I understand how he needs me. I curl against his body, let him twirl his fingers through my hair.”
The Forest of Hands & Teeth is not a happy novel, I didn’t find that it was full of fun and joy, but it does make you think. I despised the main character and that was probably what detracted from my enjoyment the most. The plot whilst in large had moments of predictability was surprising and engaging and did serve to have a few unexpected plot twists that made me flip through the pages a little faster. I don’t think there is anything astounding about this novel, but it has enjoyable moments and it’s not too long. I recommend a rainy day when you have lots of free time. This novel like Mary’s brother managed to redeem itself largely by the end and I think I’ll be reading the sequel since it’s not from Mary’s point of view. I’ll leave you on a quotation I liked from the book.
“I want to believe in hope.”
~ 3 / 5 BOOKS ~