Review: The Hollow Folk – Why You NEED To Read This Brilliant Series

Hollow-Folk

Series: Hollow Folk
Author: Gregory Ashe
Publisher: Self-published
Genre(s): Paranormal, Mystery
Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 10/10

Before we begin, I’d just like to point out that this is a long review. So to prevent the post from being a giant wall of text, I’ve peppered it with pretty pictures. And not random pictures–ones actually relevant to the story and the characters!

So I’m BEGGING you to stick through it to the end, if not for my sappy writing, then for the aesthetics, because these books deserve it.

flourish

The Hollow Folk books are about a queer psychic teenager investigating serial murders and criminal activities in a small rural town. There’s drugs, corruption, grisly corpses, and–

No no no, wait. That’s not right. I mean, all of that’s true, but it sounds…I don’t know, too flippant.

Let me try again:

The Hollow Folk books are about about a queer psychic teenager named Vie Elliot. Vie has been taken away from his abusive mother and sent to Wyoming to live with his father. His father who is marginally better than his mother–which is kind of like saying that tickling a grizzly bear is slightly less dangerous than pulling its tail. He’s juggling a lot of demons–like anger issues and mental health struggles–and his powers only add to his misery because whenever he touches or makes eye-contact with someone for the first time, he gets funneled into their worst memory. But he finds himself having to to rely on his ability to solve a series of murders in his new town.

Eh…Kind of. But still missing something.

C’mon brain, third time’s the charm:

The Hollow Folk books are about the monsters that we fight–both within and without. About going toe-to-toe with your darkness and emerging shaking and triumphant. About the pain and hardship that seep into our bones and shape us in ways that we can’t predict. A story about how power comes in all different forms and vulnerability is sometimes the greatest–hardest–form of courage. A story about finding love and acceptance even when you can’t find the will to love and accept yourself.

Yeah. That’s more like it.

Last month I wrote a post on the five topics I’d like to see explored more in fantasy, and mental health was one of them. These books show exactly how it should be done. The Hollow Folk series weaves paranormal, mystery, and romance alongside issues of self-harm, depression, and suicide to create a story that is as exciting and thrilling as it is heartwrenching and so, so important.

Let’s get to the plot first, shall we?

The series opens up with the disappearance of a high school girl and the realization that Vie isn’t the only “gifted” person in this town. Each sequel follows a new mystery that links back to the previous book and each are fresh and different and wholly engaging. This small town isn’t as innocent as it appears, and seeing our characters peel back layer by layer, all its strange, sordid, extraordinary secrets is such a treat to experience. And with each book, the paranormal stuff ramps up to exciting heights. Among other things we get telekinetics, pyros, ghosts, a Native American woman with the ability to create psychic pocket dimensions (at least, I think that’s what they are), and in Book 3, we get an all-out X-Men style battle with a bunch of superpowered people going to town on each other. It’s exhilarating, badass as hell, and the series is worth reading just to experience that scene.

Now for the characters.

Gregory Ashe writes his characters with an astounding degree of patience and poise. And Vie is without a doubt the most complex character I’ve encountered this year. I was this close to making a diagram to explain what makes him so phenomenal, but I figured that would make this already-too-long review into a 20-page essay.

Here’s the short version: every part of his character–from his past actions, his current actions, his physical appearance and so forth–says one thing about him, but it also says the opposite. Take his appearance: Vie’s built himself up to this big, tough, strong physique. Everything about it says, “Nothing can touch me. I’m invincible. I’m fearless.” But he’s not invincible. And he has fears. A lot of them. He’s given himself this tough outer shell because he is afraid–because of all the abused that’s been heaped on him over the years. And that’s what people do. We try to make ourselves into something more than what our brains tell us we are–weak, ugly, small, whatever–and the author portrays this so goddamn beautifully.

Ashe adds layers to Vie, and then layers to the layers. It’s just so absolutely masterful and my heart aches at the complexity of it.

Vie Collage

I think suicide and self-harm are minefield subjects to tackle in fiction. They’re very easy to romanticize and books sometimes have them just for the sake of adding an extra dollop of angst and conflict. But these books nail them. Like, really nail them. There are small details that knocked my breath flat with how real they are and I was a teary mess by the end of many chapters. These scenes aren’t easy to read through (understatement of the year); they’re heartbreaking and painful and they dredge up a lot of emotions that I’ve tried to bury in some dusty corner of my mind.

But I still couldn’t take my eyes away.

And a lot of that has to do with Vie’s narrative voice, which is sometimes funny, other times sad, and all-around gorgeous and stunningly raw. Reading it is like seeing the rest of the world drop away until there’s just you and him and this journey that you’re taking together, because make no mistake, you are experiencing the story with him– through every danger, every heartbreak, every faltered step, you will be right there feeling everything alongside Vie. It is utterly impossible to not love this character.

It was music like rain falling on lake water, like storms that had closed in and made sunshine a thing that was always just a little farther to the west. It was shaking free all the razored thoughts I kept packed away.

But guess what? There’s more to this story’s brilliance. Because Vie isn’t the only character with layers.

We also get Emmett, the rich kid with the razor-sharp attitude. The kid who has everything that Vie never had–money, designer clothes, food, a future, and a mostly-intact family. The kid who cloaks himself in arrogance to hide the fact that he’s actually a kid who’s drowning in self-hatred but cannot fathom saying the words, “Save me.”

There was a relentless drive in Emmett towards self-harm, and it masqueraded as self-protection. That a was nightmare combination.

Emmett Collage2.png

There’s Austin. Your typical jock with the blonde All-American Boy vibes. Your typical jock who’s really not a typical jock at all but just a boy whose anger and discontent masks a kind, insecure heart.

He was the boy next door, and seeing him made me think of those dumb horses River and Jimpson, and the way he held the steering wheel, and how he stood sometimes with his back straight, so cocky but not realizing it, and I thought of sunset and how the Wyoming sky became vertical instead of horizontal, a sheet of gold that ran straight up to the stars, and all of that was Austin.

Austin collage

There’s Becca, the computer whiz who just wants to help her friends. There’s Sara, who brims with so much love and compassion and becomes a maternal figure that Vie sorely needs. And on and on.

None of these characters are perfect. They hurt one another–sometimes by accident, other times on purpose. All of them carry scars that they try to etch onto others because bearing them alone is sometimes too impossible. Seeing them weave in and out of each other’s lives throughout the course of these three books is one of the most breathtaking things I’ve experienced this year.

I think what I love most of all, though, is how Ashe plays the long game with his characters. Personal problems don’t get neatly resolved in Book 1, or Book 2, or even Book 3. Or if they do get resolved, another quickly takes its place. Nothing is easy for these guys and these books portray, so exquisitely, the sheer messiness of relationships, being a teenager, and living in a world that seems hell bent on breaking you down.

Don’t think it’s all doom, gloom, and sadness, though; there’s also a lot of hope. The greatest message that the Hollow Folk books give you is that bruised, cracked, and battered doesn’t mean ruined, unsalvagable, unwanted. For every person who beats you down, there’s another to haul you up. Because while humans can be terrible, they can also be so incredibly beautiful, and human connections can be as potent as any superpower. So even though scars may not fully fade, you’re still here–alive, maybe a bit worse for wear, but still moving. And you’re gonna be okay.

And if you can kick some villain asses in the process? Well, that’s just the cherry on top.

Vie Elliot and his friends remind me why I read and write. There’s no feeling in the world like having a character stare into your heart and say, “I see you. I am you. Those wounds and fractures you have? They map my entire body. The darkness that presses into your every pore? We’re close acquaintances. So yeah, I’m with you. All the way.”

And you know what else? The books currently cost $2.90 (USD) each on Kindle.

That’s insane. That’s less than the cost of a morning coffee. That makes me want to buy 10 more copies just to even things out because surely some cosmic scale has become unbalanced. It makes me want to grab every passerby on the street and shake them while blubbering “You–book–3 bucks–” and get clapped in handcuffs for public harassment because these books are worth a night in a cell.

So what I’m saying is, go buy these damn books. Right now.

And if you find that they’re somehow less than amazing, then you’re to free direct all your angry complaints to me.

35 thoughts on “Review: The Hollow Folk – Why You NEED To Read This Brilliant Series

  1. jennifertarheelreader says:

    Wow, Kathy! I’m the newest owner of Mr. Big Empty! I don’t know when I’ll be able to read it, but it’s there waiting for me. I actually need to create a Kathy’s Recs folder and put it in there. Actually, I just stopped and created a note with your recs- I’ll need to get the other ones complied because there have been a few I’ve bought based on your recs. 😂 ♥️ I can’t even rehash all the reasons why because there are many but your review spoke to ME like those characters spoke to you and I definitely have to try this series. I hope you are having a wonderful week! Xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. siavahdainthemoon says:

    So these books were vaguely on my radar? And obviously after this review I had to go and nab book one, right? I’d just give it a go. I had nothing to do today. I could flip back to another book if it turned out to not be my thing.

    And now it’s 9 at night and I’m 29 chapters deep and where did my day go and this is entirely your fault.

    Thank you this is so amazing oh my gods

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Oh my god, I cackled SO. LOUDLY. You just made my day!!! 😂 The book just sucks you right in, doesn’t it?! AHH I’m so stupidly happy you picked it up and I hope you enjoy the rest! ❤️ #SorryNotSorry

      And FUUUDGE, I completely forgot to answer you back on Tumblr!! I’M SO SORRY, I haven’t been on it lately and I’m terrible at replying to people on multiple social medias! I’ll do it later today!

      Like

      • siavahdainthemoon says:

        I LITERALLY STAYED UP TILL 2AM TO FINISH IT. And then paused just long enough to flail uselessly on Goodreads, because wtf, it deserves so many more reviews, and then instantly jumped into book two. (I bought books two and three about halfway through the first one because I was clearly going to need them.) WHICH I ALSO CAN’T PUT DOWN.

        Can we start a religion??? I think we need to start a religion, because I need to become a missionary for this series and shove it at literally everyone. I thought the whole going-to-jail-for-public-harassment thing in your review was just, you know, for dramatic effect, BUT NOT EVEN A LITTLE. NOT. EVEN. A LITTLE.

        I’m glad my new addiction made you laugh, anyway XD

        And no worries! I’m useless at replying to things too, and also, I had a complete disconnect and didn’t realise who you were on tumblr anyway. Sorry!

        But really, don’t worry about it, it’s not like I’ll have time to check my messages while I’m devouring every last page of these books. Tell me, is it a trilogy or a 3+ series? Because if I’m going to get to the end of book three and it’s not over I need to brace myself now.

        And now, back to the books. Who cares if it’s 1am, SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

        YEAAAH!! YOU ROCK!! ❤ ❤ Like seriously, seeing someone taking your book recommendation and going allll the way is like taking a shot of morphine. BEST FEELING EVER. 😀

        And I am ALL for going door-to-door selling these books to everyone. We can make a bible–I'm pretty sure we can write up 1000+ pages of things to say, right?–and secret handshakes and signs. And now it's sounding more like a cult, which I'm totally fine with!

        Book Four (which is apparently the final one *sobs*) should be dropping by the end of this year, and I am SO not ready to say goodbye to these guys!! I have an interview with the author that's getting posted tomorrow where he talks about that and other stuff related to the books.

        And what the heck, I'll just answer your tumblr question here! This series is obviously one of my favourite books, but some other ones I'm obsessed with: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, Last Song Before Night by Ilana Myer, The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey, The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley. Some other ones are in my "Champions on the Genre" tab at the top of the site (though it's not really complete…I should really get on that). I think most of them fall under a) Queer b) Angst c) Pretty Prose c) All of the Above 😛

        Like

  3. dreamingofcats says:

    WOW, well, consider me sold! that’s one passionate review and the pretty aesthetics didn’t hurt 😉 along with LGBT+ storylines, YA books dealing with mental health are also what I look out for, so this is the perfect combo!

    “There are small details that knocked my breath flat with how real they are and I was a teary mess by the end of many chapters.”

    not to be weird, but that really excites me in relation to the self-harm and suicidal themes because I’ve been there and the only time I’ve found it realistically represented in fiction was with Mallory Hill’s Terminal Regression (which also made ME emotional and teary at how much it hit home), the rest of the time it feels like the author paying lip service and sliding it in to score brownie points without really doing the work in getting the representation right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Not weird at all! I’m 100% with you! I’m always wanting more better suicide/self-harm representation in fiction, but so few do it in a respectful way that doesn’t shy away from the harsh details. There’s a scene in this one where the MC is just screaming at another character going “I never asked you to save me” and it’s details like that that make this series so real and phenomenal. I so hope you get the chance to read the books! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • dreamingofcats says:

        aaagh, that sounds so good! it’s a hard line to toe between being respectful and not exploitative, and still doing justice to the topic without being shallow on details. sounds like this book gets it just right!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. paperjasmine says:

    Fantastic review. I’m actually kind of blown away, not sure if it’s your writing or the book you’re writing about 😁
    The Hollow Folk isn’t something I’d ever pick up normally, but I think you might’ve convinced me to give it a chance!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Norrie says:

    I don’t normally read stories like this, with “gifted” people and whatnot, but with the mystery in the centre it’s quite intriguing.
    Nailing those hard topics also a plus!

    Aaaand, i love the pretty pics you chose ❤

    I'm on a book buying ban right now, but saved this on goodreads 😀

    Like

  6. siavahdainthemoon says:

    SO I FINALLY FINISHED THESE

    I’M VERY UPSET IT TOOK ME SO LONG

    (There was work and general Grownup Drama urghness, it was NOT AT ALL the fault of the books!)

    BUT NOT AS UPSET AS I AM ABOUT NOT HAVING BOOK 4

    WHERE IS IT WHERE IS IT WHERE IS IT

    I do wish there were less typos. I don’t mind things like spelling errors, but there were multiple instances of words missing from a sentence, which makes me anxious when I’m not sure what word is supposed to be there. And it feels incredibly rude to reach out to the writer about it. Sigh.

    But gods DAMN this series is INCREDIBLE. How many series get better with every book??? Who else writes characters that well??? I completely forgot it was fiction while reading, it felt like I was living it all. So immersive and so addictive!

    Also I can’t help it, I’m polyamorous myself and I just want Emmett Vie and Austin in a happy triad together when it all ends. I will probably have to write fanfiction, since I don’t dare get my hopes up that that’s how it will actually wrap up.

    (Also HOW CAN THERE BE ONLY ONE BOOK LEFT HOW IS ALL THAT GOING TO FIT IN JUST ONE MORE BOOK AHHHHHHH)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      *UNHOLY SCREECHING* OMG I’M SO HAPPY TO HEAR THAT. Now I actually have someone to yell about these books with!!! I swear, I had to pause every now and then while reading to go, “What…How…How is this so good??? This HAS to be sorcery.”

      And oh my god, a poly ending would be the golden cherry on top this stupidly gorgeous cake. These kids ALL deserve love and my heart utterly broke for Emmett at the end of book 3. And oh man, I would love you SO MUCH if you actually wrote fanfic for this.

      And I’d totally edit out those typos for free, but uh, I’m guessing that’s not something I should be offering to an author. P

      And sorry I’ve been so absent on Twitter! I’ve had to deal some bad mental health stuff for two months and ended up taking a break from social media. And *now* I’m taking a break because I’m working on a Best of 2018 Reads project, and it’s more time-consuming than I’d expected, so I’m trying to avoid distractions! I shall be back in a week or so to spam your timeline with book recs. 😀

      Like

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