The Dark and Hollow Places is the final book in Carrie Ryan's nihilistic girls-vs.-zombies trilogy, following The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves. I enjoyed the first story in this series, and while I was slightly less impressed by the sequel, I was still sufficiently invested to embark on this book with an open mind—maybe even a little optimism.
The protagonist of The Dark and Hollow Places is Annah, the long-lost twin sister of Gabry, the heroine of The Dead-Tossed Waves. Annah is a survivor, even in this grim world of zombies and religious fanatics, but the horrors she has experienced have left her physically and mentally scarred. When she is reunited with her sister and meets Catcher, a boy with an inexplicable immunity to the zombie virus, Annah experiences a brief flash of hope... but she soon discovers that any emotional bond will be used against her.
Ryan's world has always been a dark one, but The Dark and Hollow Places really ups the horror ante. This book is so overwhelmingly grim it frequently crosses the line into unintentional humor. The plot is stuffed to bursting with attempted rape scenes, betrayals, and death, death, and more death. Nearly every named character—apart from the four primary ones—dies, always horribly. People are torn apart, fall off buildings, and die in zombie cage fights. (Seriously. Zombie cage fights.)
Despite all the over-the-top horror, the novel might have kept my interest if Ryan had moved the final quarter of her book in a fresh direction—offering some hope of a cure for the zombie infestation, or at least a more concrete plan for her protagonists' future. Instead, the book kept the festival of gore rolling until the final pages, when things took an abrupt turn towards relative optimism. Unfortunately, by this point my emotional investment in Ryan's characters had been exhausted, and it was going to take a lot more than an upbeat final scene to revive it.
Review based on publisher-provided copy.