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Confession time: I judge books by their covers. This is really a guilty pleasure more than anything else, honest! And thus, I needed a copy of House of Hollow, which has the most beautiful cover I’ve seen so far this year. Not just that, it’s a cover that perfectly captures the tone of this book. It’s lovely, haunting, whimsical and gruesome all at once, just like Krystal Sutherland’s latest.
I’ll start off by stating outright that this book is my first 5-star read of the year. This isn’t a rating I expect to give out too often, even to books I really enjoy. 5-stars, to me, are books that I know I’ll reread. These are books that will be mainstays on my shelf, always in reach when I just want to get lost in a world I love.
House of Hollow is everything I want in a book. It has characters who are deeply flawed and morally gray in the truest ways. Its plot is packed with mystery, intrigue, and dark, twisted magic. It has an ending that feels complete, but is by no means neat & tidy. And the writing! Sutherland so perfectly demonstrates an oppressively haunting tone that is as beautiful and laced with danger as the Hollow sisters.
Read on for the full review. Light spoilers ahead!
**light spoilers from here on out**
House of Hollow begins with a straightforward plot. Basically, you’ve got three sisters (Grey, Vivi, Iris) and the oldest, Grey, is missing. Seamlessly established is just how close these sisters are. They’re often countries or continents apart from each other (Iris, our MC, attends school in London; Vivi is a globe-trotting musician; Grey is a global fashion designer/supermodel), but their bond is so ingrained that Iris often feels as if they share a heartbeat. Iris and Vivi know that Grey is in danger, and they immediately set out to rescue her.
From here on, House of Hollow delves deeper and deeper into its dark fantasy elements. What felt more like magical realism at the start–lots of witchy vibes and hints of fantasy–opens into a hidden world of monsters, dangerous magic, and a beautifully bittersweet conclusion.
I honestly don’t want to give too much of the plot away because I encourage everyone to give this book a read. Trust me when I say: the mystery of the Hollow sisters’ origins is as compelling as the mystery around Grey’s disappearance, and there are enough twists (some minor, some huge) that kept me glued to the page.
I’ve mentioned already that House of Hollow begins with a very Magical Realism-vibe, and the writing skirts a fine line early on with rich descriptions that could be taken as literal or metaphorical. And then you pick up the thread of the Hollow sisters: they have powers that are very real. There are monsters in this world. There are portals to other worlds. The book pivots to contemporary dark fantasy and achieves this flawlessly.
Sutherland never says too much about how magic works in House of Hollow. For some books and some readers, I imagine this would be frustrating. However, it works well here. As readers, we’re never wholly certain what’s possible and what isn’t. We’re never certain of all the types of monsters that exist in this world, but it feels enough to know that they do exist.
Even aside from the magic, our MC Iris lives on the outskirts of another sort of fantasy: the world of fame, glam, fortune. Her sisters, Grey in particular, are incredibly famous. They have social media followers in the millions. Product lines. Fashion shows. In her search for Grey, Iris skirts in and out of this high-glam life. Sutherland creates an interesting parallel by exploring both a literal fantasy world and the world of the rich and famous. Both feel glitter-crusted and painfully beautiful on the surface, but a little bit rotten underneath.
Iris, as the youngest sister and our POV character, gives us the perspective of one who desperately admires her older sisters. All three are achingly beautiful, but Iris often feels awkward and even frightened in her skin, whereas her sisters are staggeringly confident. Vivi is a fierce punk-rocker with a chip on her shoulder, while Grey describes herself as the “thing in the dark,” a monster to fear.
The bond established between the sisters is easily the most compelling part of House of Hollow. Although Vivi and Iris admire and love Grey, there’s something about Grey that feels off, that makes even the two of them wary of her. She has secrets, and the plot is all about Iris and Vivi uncovering these secrets. The more they find, the more Grey and the world grow more fantastical and gruesomely dark.
Although Grey might be the more interesting character of the three, it’s Iris and Vivi’s relationship that feels the realest. They bicker and hurt each other like sisters do, but the love and the trust they put in each other is absolute. It’s a staggeringly true depiction of a deep sibling bond, and they play off each other brilliantly, each one a perfect contrast to the other. Still, Grey is the outlier of them: self-distanced, keeping secrets, pulling strings that her sisters’ aren’t even aware of.
House of Hollow is an incredible book. Anytime a book has excellent writing, I’ll generally stick it out, no matter the plot or characters. Luckily, House of Hollow has all these things and more. The characters are solid. The plot is compelling. And have I mentioned the writing?
I highly recommend House of Hollow to anyone looking for a book they can sink their teeth into and get truly lost in. There are a few hiccups–a few characters whose roles and motivations feel less defined and a couple instances where the sisters’ actions should have had more consequences. Nonetheless, the moments I’m thinking of are minor and do little to deter from an otherwise 5-star read.
- lovely, descriptive writing
- a perfectly haunting tone that conveys both beauty & mystery
- strong characters who are deeply flawed but utterly compelling
- the worldbuilding is intriguing, intense & gruesome
- an epilogue that somewhat weakens the final chapter by reopening certain story arcs that felt closed and done
- a sort-of romance that felt unnecessary and instead weakened certain character relationships/motivations