leedock’s CBR-III Review #8 “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” – Carrie Ryan

The scariest monsters are the monsters that we know. Institutions that can oppress us. Family that can betray us. Our own hearts that can condemn us. Take all those monsters, fence them inside a post apocalyptic village besieged by real monsters, stir in some sexual tension and you’ve got one darkly spun tale. Welcome to “The Forest of Hands and Teeth”.

Zombies seem to be everywhere lately. In the past, they were frequently painted with the broad stroke of the campy B-movie brush. Now, the most interesting part of the post-apocalyptic-zombie-pandemic theme isn’t so much about brain eating, it’s about coming to terms with battling monsters that we know. How can you look into the eyes of your neighbor, brother, wife, child and kill them? How do you separate who they are from what they have become? What kind of new world order will you build? Those dilemmas are made of darker stuff.

In “The Forest of Hands and Teeth”, Carrie Ryan introduces us to a young woman, Mary, living with the consequences of her ancestor’s answers to those questions. The story is set generations after the world has been ravaged by a pandemic that turns humans into ravenous zombies (The Unconsecrated). Mary’s village is physically separated from the zombie riddled forest by fences maintained by the military (The Guardians). The prescribed religion of the village (The Sisterhood) construct dogmatic fences to further imprison the villagers by withholding knowledge of the past in order to control the status quo.

The villagers live with the constant moaning hum of the Unconsecrated, their gnashing teeth and grasping hands endlessly poking through the chain link. To block out what surrounds them, the villagers immerse themselves in the routine of daily life and seasonal rituals that mark the harvest, betrothals, and births.  Mary, whose mother has told her stories about a time before the Return and has shown her pictures of her great great grandmother standing in the ocean, is not appeased by these rituals.  Her restlessness drives her to seek the truth about the forest and what lies beyond.

Sooner or later, we are all faced with that fork in the road. What happens when the path you choose may lead to a world where there are no fences, or  to a dead-end full of very, very, hungry zombies? Carrie Ryan has created a claustrophobic and tense little world that is well worth the visit.

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