The three books are:
The first is my very favorite zombie story. I read it about 2 years ago, when it was a “Best For Young Adults” selection.
This year, I found the other two at my local library and snapped them up.
Some writers can write a great book in an imagined world, then prove unable to write another great book set in that same world. Ryan isn’t one of those writers. She has three great books set in her post-zombie apocalypse world.
The three books are loosely connected, with the main character of The Forest of Hands and Teeth being the adopted mother of the main character of The Dead-Tossed Waves. The main character of The Dark and Hollow Places is the sister of another of the main characters in Dead-Tossed Waves.
What I like most about her books is that they’re not focused on the blood and gore of fighting zombies. She’s writing about the surviving humans and the effects the zombies and survival has on them, their society and their religious beliefs.
Common thread: catastrophic change (the Return) and how people respond
Zombies are something good
The Soulers are religious people who’ve decided that zombies (being essentially immortal) are the immortality that some religions believe is the reward given to good/righteous believers. A Souler voluntarily agrees to be bitten by a zombie so they can return in their own immortal body. The other Soulers then smash and remove the returnee’s lower jaw and pull their teeth so they can’t bite or infect anyone else, and keep them chained up as part of the family, so to speak.
This touches on a repeated question throughout all the stories: when someone becomes a zombie, is the original personality/soul still there, or is it gone and the zombie body is just a biological machine? No one really answers this question, although one of the main characters (Catcher) in the two later books hints a bit toward an answer. Catcher was bitten, but turns out to be immune; his immune system is able to hold the infection in check. Those in the story who are familiar with immunes say that whenever he finally dies, he’ll come back as a zombie. But none can say if he’ll still be in the zombie body or not.
Zombies are something evil to be destroyed whenever possible, or avoided
This is expressed in the general attitude of the survivors, and particularly expressed in all three books. In The Forest of Teeth and Hands, the people who’ve been protecting the village from the surrounding zombies have formed an almost-religious community with rigid rules intended to protect the village. In The Dead-Tossed Waves, the larger village has nothing particularly religious about it, but has rigid rules intended to protect the village. In The Dark and Hollow Places, a non-religious military dictatorship (the Protectorate and its Recruiters army) protects the larger coastal village (and the even larger Dark City). In all three cases, the rules result in the deaths of uninfected citizens.
The responses of the village sisterhood, the Soulers and the Protectorate to the wrenching change caused by the Return of the dead as zombies boil down to basically the same: hard-hearted, hopeless, resistance.
The positive response
At the end of The Dark and Hollow Places, the response is, “Zombies are a part of the world as it is, but we don’t need to give up living to deal with it.” It ends with hope as the main characters and the downtrodden slaves of the powerful escape the final zombie horde by flying away in hot air balloons. Then they go to sea in an old sailing vessel, setting out to look for other pockets of survivors, with the hope of establishing a sea-born society safe from the zombies.
She’s still writing for young adults, so sometimes her characters spend a bit too much time moping around about the whole “He loves me, he loves me not, should I love him, do I love him” et al. The two later books have more of that problem than the first. But unlike Charles de Lint, I never felt like anything kept me from connecting with the characters and immersing myself in the stories.
Read and reread them all!