Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

3432478Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Author: Carrie Ryan

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Post-Apocaliptic

Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N

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 and Teeth is a mixed bag. There are strokes of brilliances throughout the book, but then there are pages filled with mediocre storytelling as well. Mary is the main character, and she’s always dreamt of the ocean, a magical place told about in her mother’s stories. However, with her Dad fallen victim to the Unconsecreated, and her Mom lingering on depression, her brother alienating himself from her, Mary’s life isn’t like a fairytale or magical story at all. In her life, there are a few simple truths. The Sisterhood knows best. Guardians will protect and serve. Unconsecrated will never relent. And don’t go beyond the Fence.

But when Mary’s mother falls victim to the Unconsecrated as well and her brother doesn’t want her around, she gets sent to the house of the Sisterhood, where she discovers the truth may be hiding a lot of lies. When her friend Travis is brought in seriously injured, she spends more and more time with him, even though he’s bethrothed to her best friend. When she finds out Travis returns her feelings, it’s like a dream come true, but unfortunately there’s little time for things as silly as love in Mary’s world.

When a stranger arrives in town and is immediately hidden by the Sisterhood, Mary discovers a lot more than she bargained for. Then the stranger is bitten and turns into one of the Unconsecrated, except she’s impossibly fast and tears down the entire village. Mary and her friends narrowly escape, but they’re left on their own to find their way to safety. With Mary’s love for Travis growing stronger every day, and her desire to reach the ocean outweighing everything else, the journey to safety also becomes a journey of self-discovery. But with the Unconsecrated on their heels, every day is a fight for survival.

The world Carrie Ryan sketches in this novel is a bleak, futureless, post-apocalyptic world that seems to have gone straight back to the middle ages. The village is the main setting, but when it gets overrun by Unconsecrated, Mary and her friends move on to new territory, walking through the fenced-off roads leading to outside the village, hoping to find a new place of refuge. Survival is key in this world, and dead may come knocking on the door every day. Fear is present from page one, and lingers on until the very end. Setting-wise, this book is very powerful.

The plot was strong as well. I liked the idea of the zombies here, and it reminded me very much of the movie “The Village”, with the same claustrophobic atmosphere and creepy vibe, except that here, the Unconsecrated are zombies, and are very real. I also liked Mary’s drive, of wanting to find the ocean, such a supposedly simple dream that could turn out to be so hard. There was plenty of action and tension as well.

What didn’t convince me were the characters. Mary is all right, I suppose. She has a straightforward way of seeing things, which I liked. She sees things for how they truly are, no matter how unsettling the truth may be. But her relationship with Travis was…well, laughable. There’s no tension or emotion between both characters. Travis was as one-sided as a card-board figure, and I never really got a sense of him. That said, I never really got a sense of any of the side characters. Maybe it was because the book was told from Mary’s POV only, but it was like the other characters were props, or personality-less creatures, like they’d already somehow transformed into Unconsecrated even though they were still alive. Whereas Mary’s personality shined through, and she actually went through a lot of personality development, the other characters remained puppets, stage figures for Mary’s great show.

The thing was that I didn’t really mind. The way it was written, with the sharp contrast between Mary, so obviously very alive, and the other characters, already seeming like zombies, was brilliant. For some reason, it worked. It alienated Mary even further from the others, indicating that perhaps by living in fear for their entire lives, they’d already turned into some kind of zombies, void of dreams and hopes and much emotion.

Less brilliant was the repetitiveness of some of the scenes. I’d actually thought I’d already read a scene when I hadn’t, simply because it sounded so similar to another scene chapters before.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth isn’t your typical post-apocalypstic zombie book, and for that, I greatly applaud it. The author made some brave choices along the way, choosing to give her audience a dose of the horrific every now and then, when necessary for the story. I’m looking forward to reading the next part in this series.


  1. I read the whole series a couple of years ago and I really liked it. There was something a bit different about how the zombies acted and her description of the location that made this stand out for me. By the way, I am not a person who loves zombie or vampire stories normally, but the zombies here and the vampires in the novel, The Passage, appealed to me. You should read the next two–I enjoyed the second book the best from what I can recall.

  2. I’ll definitely check out the second book in the series. I liked how different the zombies were as well in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Very different from other books, and a lot scarier.


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