The Hollow City – Dan Wells

About the book

Michael Shipman is paranoid schizophrenic; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex fantasies of persecution and horror. That’s bad enough. But what can he do if some of the monsters he sees turn out to be real?

Who can you trust if you can’t even trust yourself? The Hollow City is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the greatest enemy of all is your own mind.

336 pages (hardcover)
Published on: July 3, 2012
Published by: Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was sent to me to review by the publisher.

You can purchase this book by clicking on the following links:

This is my first Dan Wells book. I didn’t even mean to start reading it when I did. I got a stack of books in the mail and was flipping through them. I saw this one and decided to give the first few pages a try. Two days later I finished the book. That’s the kind of book The Hollow City is. Love it or hate it, it’s a fast; whirlwind read that will completely devour your time.

Having not read any other Dan Wells books, I can’t say if having an untraditional lead character is normal for him, but following a protagonist who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic is not normal for me. This divergence from the norm was incredibly welcome. Michael’s diagnosis brings another level of depth and confusion to the plot and helps push The Hollow City from interesting to fascinating as Wells seamlessly blends fantasy (Michael’s hallucinations) with reality. For much of the book readers are left to puzzle out what is happening due to Michael’s illness, and what is happening because it’s actually happening.

Writing such a seamless blend of fantasy and reality can’t be easy. Usually when authors write a book where the line between real and imagined is blurry, it’s fairly obvious which is which. However, Wells uses Michael’s diagnoses as a huge force to drive the plot forward and it is essential that he blends reality and hallucination this well. This also serves to interest readers in the character. It’s fascinating to see life through a schizophrenic person’s eyes. Especially after I’ve personally known someone who was diagnosed with this disorder.

That’s really where my fascination with The Hollow City comes from. It’s absolutely riveting to view the world through a schizophrenic person’s eyes. While I probably won’t ever know if this is really what it’s like to have this disease, I think Wells book is just about as close to realistic as it gets. That being said, once the schizophrenia is taken away, the plot really isn’t that amazing. Michael’s schizophrenia is what makes The Hollow City what it is.

As I mentioned above, the plot really isn’t that amazing once you take the mental disorder away from it all. Michael is an easy character to follow, but there’s nothing unique or incredibly attention getting about a guy who is being chased by mysterious men/organizations. Furthermore, the ending is rather odd. It might please some people, but the conclusion seems to diverge quite a bit from what Wells is working toward, and some of the threads are tied rather hastily.

And as long as I’m a poo-pooing thing, I might as well touch on another point that readers might be interested in. The Hollow City takes a turn somewhere in the second half of the book and starts to leave the mental illness theme behind and enters a science fiction realm. This really isn’t bad. This section is enjoyable, it’s just as tightly written as everything else, but this portion focuses much more on the underlying plot. As I described above, that underlying plot is slightly lackluster. This portion of the book failed to hold my interest as much as the first half, and that’s really too bad. Michael is a wonderful character to follow, easy to sympathize with, easy to get along with, but he’s just stuck in a rather humdrum plot. The Hollow City really needs the mental illness portion to thrive.

The Hollow City is a fascinating book that readers will devour. It’s equal parts psychological thriller and science fiction. While it does lose some of it’s pull after the halfway mark, and the ending leaves a little to be desired, at the end of the day this is an unforgettable book. Wells is a brilliant writer who somehow manages to take something that could easily be incredibly complex and makes it amazingly accessible. The Hollow City, despite my quibbles, is a highly recommended read.


3/5 stars

3 Responses

  • You amaze me how quickly you get through books – and write up the reviews.

    As always – great review 🙂

    • BookwormBlues

      I try to be as amazing as possible.

  • Just finished The Hollow City and I have to say your review is spot-on to how I’m feeling right now. And it’s been a bit since you read/reviewed this book, but for anyone else looking here, yes, untraditional protagonists ARE normal for Dan Wells–or rather, they seem to be his specialty.

    In the John Cleaver series (Bk. 1: I Am Not A Serial Killer), Wells does the same second half “turn” you identified here, going from a psychological thriller to a sci-fi/horror mashup. If this crossover works for you in this book, you’ll love it in Serial Killer. If it doesn’t, you’ll join the long list of Wells’ 1-Star reviewers on Amazon.

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