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The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Mary has lived in the village her entire life, and like everyone else who lives there, she’s never gone beyond the fence – because beyond the fence the Forest is full of the Unconsecrated:  the living dead who stumble through the trees, moaning and hungering for human flesh.  All that keeps them out is the fence – and all that keeps Mary and her townspeople safe are the truths they have always known:  “The Sisterhood always knows best.  The Guardians will protect and serve.  The Unconsecrated will never relent.”

The people in Mary’s village are the sole survivors of a global epidemic, a fast-moving infection that kills everyone it touches and turns them into what we’d call zombies.  The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set after The Return; in Mary’s time, no one remembers “the before time,” before the infection, before the Unconsecrated “returned” from death to roam the Forest.  Like everyone else her age, Mary grew up safe in the knowledge that their village was alone but protected.  The Unconsecrated are a constant threat, but as long as everyone lives by the rules set out by the Sisterhood and the Guardians, they’re safe.  The Unconsecrated are only a danger to those who go too close to the fence – and no one in their right mind would tempt fate.  Unless the person they loved most in the world had gone beyond the fence and not come back…

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is fast-paced and gripping.  I love adventure stories where both boys and girls get to struggle and fight – instead of having the old-fashioned “damsel in distress” who needs to be saved – and that’s definitely the case here.  When everything she’s ever known changes in a single moment, Mary has to learn to fend for herself.  Knowledge comes at a price, however, and the more Mary questions, the more frightening the answers.  All the things she’s always believed in are turning out to be lies. The Sisterhood – a cloister of nuns who have taught, healed and guided the people of her village for as long as anyone can remember –may not be who they seem.  The Guardians are men like Mary’s brother, Jed; strong and brave, they’ve always been their protectors, maintaining the fences against a breach – until they fail.  And the Unconsecrated have only ever been a horror that lurks at the edge of every day – until the day someone you love becomes one of them.

Mary is a great character.  She’s strong but not a superhero; she gets angry and scared – like most of would if we were faced with a horde of zombies.  But she never gives up, and  The Forest of Hands and Teeth tells the story of Mary’s journey toward the truth about the world around her, from the secrets that hide inside the Cathedral to those that wait outside the fence.  The more she learns, the more she questions.  Is life worth living when all that waits is the horror of a living death?  What separates humans from the Unconsecrated?  And where does love fit into a world where simple survival is the best you can hope?  Mary’s journey takes her beyond the fence and into a world with no easy answers.

I never thought of myself as someone who liked zombie stories, but I couldn’t put this book down!  It was exciting, creepy and sad all at the same time.  I came to really love the characters, and while I wouldn’t want to live in this world, I can’t wait to read more about it in The Dead-Tossed Waves.


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