Title: The Hollow Gods
Series: The Chaos Cycle Duology
Author: A. J. Vrana
Publisher: The Parliament House Press
Publication Date: July 28th, 2020
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
I received a digital ARC copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you to The Parliament House Press for allowing me to participate in the blog tour as well!
A perfect story for contemporary fantasy readers who love their narratives razor-sharp and their secrets dark and deadly.
Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?
“Miya had always been obsessed with the hidden.”
This book completely blew me away! If you’re looking for a story that is fast paced, all consuming, and open to a little interpretation, this is the book for you! Definitely some gothic horror vibes going on, which is so fun.
“The dead had nothing to be concerned about.”
Like I said, you have to be ready for a little interpretation and confused. BUT it’s all in good fun. Vrana does an amazing job at twisting fantasy and reality, and it is quite the ride. As long as you hold on tight, you shouldn’t fall off the ride!
“You are the monster under the bed as far as fairy tales are concerned.”
My favorite thing about this book is that we have three main characters: Miya, Kai, and Mason. All three are on different paths to the same points, and it gets messy very fast. I adored going on each individually journey with them and experiencing all the tangles and chaos with them!
“This town has a lot of secrets, and if you keep digging for them, you’ll end up burying yourself alive.”
Not sold on this book yet? I have just one word for you: Kai. Even if it’s only to meet Kai, read this book. Devilish and sexy, he is easily one of my favorite book boyfriends.
“She was held hostage by her own dreams.”
Author Q & A
Before we start, I just want to say that A. J. Vrana is a lovely person. If you get the chance, please go follow her on Instagram @a.j.vrana She is so fun to interact with and just loves talking to fans! (I know I’ve done my fair share of talking her ear off!)
Without further ado, heres the interview!
What five buzz words describe your book?
Dreams, ravens, forests, hauntings, cycles
What motivates Miya, Kai, and Maso, your main characters?
Oooo I like this question. Miya is an unmoored, depressed, and broke university student who feels like the prescriptive happy life is a bit of a sham. She’s gone through all the motions, enrolled in her dream journalism program, and now she finds herself disillusioned and disappointed by the superficiality of it all. She wants to find something more meaningful than #lifegoals. Basically, she wants more than clickbait, and this drives her to dig beneath the surface for some deeper truth.
Kai is motivated by a pretty basic instinct: survival. His life is, well, rough. He’s an outsider to mainstream society, a scavenger who subsists off our scraps. He’s also haunted by something sinister he doesn’t understand, and so the added burden of this malicious presence only heightens his survival instinct. Crudely put, Kai just wants to be left alone, and he really, really wants to be free of whatever is clinging to him. Sadly, he has no idea how to accomplish that.
Mason’s desires and motivations have a bit more affinity with Miya’s. Mason is a doctor—a man of science—and where Miya has been disillusioned by the “usual life plan” to find success and happiness, Mason has lived, owned, and internalized it. That is, until his young cancer patient dies, and he finds himself in the grips of an existential crisis. His worldview is shaken, and all he wants is for things to go back to the way they were. Essentially, Mason just wants the world to make sense again, and he wants his old sense of self restored.
Are there any quirky meanings behind their names?
Actually, yes! Miya’s (pronounced Mee-ya) full name is Emiliya Delathorne. I used the Slavic spelling for her first name (Emilija in Serbo-Croatian, where j’s are pronounced as y’s). Her last name is a mishmash of Delacroix (the French romantic painter) and Hawthorne (the American dark romantic novelist). One common theme in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work is ancestral sin and guilt, which is also a theme in The Hollow Gods.
Mason Evans also has some significance, but it’s not nearly as literary! Mason is a huge Marvel nerd, and his childhood idol is Captain America. Since I was writing The Hollow Gods during the height of the MCU, I couldn’t resist having Mason share Chris Evans’ last name.
What were your inspirations while writing this book? Any other books or TV shows?
I get this question a lot, and it’s honestly the hardest one for me to answer. I think inspiration works a lot like a compost machine. You take in so much in your daily interactions, you aren’t even aware of how your brain recycles that content and then brings it back when you’re writing. There’s a lot about my experience of growing up as a first gen kid of immigrants that filtered into the book, but I honestly wasn’t aware of it.
If I had to think REALLY hard about it, I do recall borrowing elements from the film adaption of Silent Hill (the first one!). And okay, listen, I know Silent Hill fans hate that movie, but I actually think it’s pretty good as a stand-alone film. Like, this idea of a small, isolated town that believes some little girl is a witch? I am here for it.
The other thing I was really inspired by was south Slavic folklore. The connections are very loose, but they’re there if you look hard enough! I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say the Dreamwalker is vaguely inspired by the Kukeri warriors from Bulgaria, Macedonia, and parts of Serbia. There is another, far more direct connection that has to do with Kai’s character. South Slavic folklore has a lot of reverence for wolves; in Serbian folklore, wolves are a totem animal. There’s an old folk tale that when a woman would miscarry or have a stillborn, it was because witches or evil spirits were stealing the child’s soul. She would name the subsequent child ‘wolf’ to fool the malicious spirits and witches, because it was thought that the only thing evil spirits and witches feared were wolves. In that regard, the child became both a metaphorical and literal wolf.
Are there any real-life inspirations to Black Hollow, our town setting?
I don’t think there’s any one place specifically that I can pinpoint. I have been to a lot of small towns around the world, and I spent some time outside of Vancouver when I was a teenager, so I’m sure Black Hollow is the result of my brain Frankensteining these numerous places together and injecting them with some good ol’ horror vibes. My dad is from a small town in the Balkans, and because I grew up in a big city for pretty much my entire life, I’ve always been fascinated by the intimacy of small towns. They really feel like a world of their own sometimes.
What is your go-to drink and snack while writing?
Coffee, usually. I am a fiend for peanuts, which is terrible, because I can easily devour a kilogram of peanuts without even noticing. Speaking of, I’m going to get some peanuts right now.
What is one thing you want your readers to know about your book?
Kai is not a werewolf. I get why people reach for that as the descriptor, but I want to go on record and say that there are no werewolves in my book. Werewolves are people who are cursed to turn into massive, bloodthirsty wolves under certain conditions (full moons, usually). If anything, Kai is the opposite of that—a wolf stuck in a human body, much to his chagrin. Try to think of the animal-human continuum in my book as more along the lines of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, where you have horses that are birds and characters that are sometimes human and sometimes animal. I hope my note above about folk tales also helps clarify, but basically: more folklore, less urban fantasy.
Also, I’d steer clear if you’re a fan of very neat, systemic fantasy worlds and hate open-ended conclusions!
The Parliament House Press (physical copy)