"Fuck this shit."
"And fuck that squirrel in particular."
Normally I don't include much cussing in my reviews, it just isn't necessary.. but the above pretty much sums up my favorite character in 'The Hollow Gods (The Chaos Cycle Duology #1)' by A.J. Vrana. Kai Donovan's so surly it's hilarious, but he's still capable of caring.. it just comes in the most prickly, aggressive, physical package possible.. and I am crazy about him. Did I mention he's an ass.. but also hot as hell? Yeah. That's in his wheelhouse too.
This story is about an old town, harboring a very dark legend and a lot of secrets. Miya, the main character, is a university student who's struggling to get by.. and beginning to think she might actually be in serious danger. Along the way she meets Kai.. a stranger.. who's more than a little rough around the edges and just happens to wake up next to a dead body to start his day.
Told from multiple points of view by Miya, Kai, and Mason.. an oncologist who's dealing with some demons of his own, the three end up on similar paths. Attempting to get to the truth behind the legend of the Dreamwalker and a history of girls who go missing only to return, then turn up dead later, it's a question as to whether or not they can figure out what's happening and make it stop before it's too late.
"Time to lose your way, she trilled.
The Hollow's still got hell to pay."
Honestly, this book was such a pleasure to read. It's common for authors, especially debuting authors, to bite off a little more than they can chew.. and multiple POV is especially difficult to execute well. There are plenty of seasoned bestselling writers out there who can't manage it, but that is not the case with Vrana. She shifts seamlessly between characters, successfully gifting each of them with distinctively individual voices.
The same can be said for her transitions from chapter to chapter. Her foreshadowing is handled with all the control of a master like King.. elegant allusions and glimpses of things just beyond sight. Miya, Kai, and Mason all begin their stories at very specific points, vastly distant from one another, and are deftly drawn toward each other in gradually tightening circles.
"Once upon a time, when the earth was formless and empty, and darkness stretched over the surface of the deep, we plunged one another into the abyss, and the world has trembled ever since."
As for the plot itself, it's beautifully dark. It's the kind of story you find in age old fairy tales full of things that go bump in the night and absolutely mean you harm. The worlds they inhabit are fraught with dangerous things and not all of them as we might expect.
There's sort of an 'in-between' and a place of 'otherness'.. both of which are as unique as the characters she introduces to us. I loved the way the 'in-between' often felt almost gauzy.. as if it was sort of a filter between the two. And the 'other' place.. wow. Talk about a nightmare.
"Cut the seams of reality, and chaos is bound to spill out."
Even her supporting characters, of which there are several we get to know, have very developed backstories.. making them feel all the more tangible and crucial to the tale she tells.
Initially, I had been a little uncomfortable with the dialogue style between Kai and his nemesis, but that was largely due to the fact it seemed as if something else was happening. As soon as I understood.. it made sense and I realized it was absolutely the right choice.
Truly, I can't say enough good things about this novel or this author. I'm so glad there's going to be more to this story.. and I look forward to seeing what Vrana has planned for us. I highly recommend grabbing this book when it releases in July 2020.