February 1, 2013

The Hallowed Ones: A Panoramic Review

"Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning." (from Goodreads)
The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

*Note: there are general spoilers about a certain element of this book's premise. If you want to be remain completely in the dark about The Hallowed Ones, do not read any further!

My reaction: I found the first half to be quite slow-moving, so I ended up reading this one on and off for about a week. It was definitely a bit of a push sometimes, but eventually about three-quarters of the way through I was pretty gripped by it.  

For those of you who don't like violence/horror, a warning right off the bat: there is definitely a horror aspect to this book. I can't really talk about The Hallowed Ones without mentioning the vampires, so I hope that isn't considered a massive spoiler. Certain scenes were really, really gruesome — as in blood, guts, and severed body parts. It wasn't pretty, particularly as I am one of those readers who doesn't usually like gross, gory stuff. I fully admit I am squeamish.
I actually thought these graphic depictions were a little over-the-top, especially in a particular scene (spoilers, highlight to read: when they discover all the dead bodies in the house). It just seemed like they were being used for shock value or dramatic effect. Plus, it doesn't exactly make sense given the nature of the threat (spoilers: I'm not really sure why the vampires go to such lengths to mutilate the bodies. You'd think they'd be draining them dry, not spilling their blood all over the place...)

I really liked seeing Katie grow in this book, and throw off the complacency she has at the beginning. Right from the start she claims that she always questions things, and frankly I found it annoying that she was constantly telling the reader that, like it was being thrust on us: "root for this girl because she doesn't always obey the rules!" But I enjoyed actually watching her follow these claims up with actions, as she starts to take charge of her life and step out of the boundaries. As the story progresses she becomes more extreme about it; at the beginning she makes small transgressions and questions things a little, but she really ups her assertiveness and defiance of the Elders towards the end. I think Alex helps to bring that out in her. And while it's sort of dangerous in one way, I think it's more dangerous for her to sit around on her hands and not do anything, because there are vampires wreaking havoc and no one else (except Alex and the Hexenmeister) is paying attention!

I didn't see the twist of the vampires' identities coming at all, but it definitely made sense. However, I thought the "climactic" sense wasn't all that climactic, having been overshadowed by what happened earlier (spoiler: again, the macabre scene of horrors at the house). It wasn't particularly scary and the vanquishing of evil was accomplished rather easily. It just seemed a little too perfect that almost everyone got to pitch in somehow. I also thought the story needed more denouement — it ends suddenly just pages after the climactic-scene-that-wasn't-really. Spoiler: she's leaving and we don't even get to see how her family feels about that?

Best aspect: the relationship that develops between Alex and Katie. There's a definite spark and attraction that gives a slightly sexy element to their romance. He becomes quite protective of her and I thought his nickname for her was adorable. I much preferred Alex to Elijah as a boyfriend for Katie...well, and just generally as a character, too. I was okay with Elijah at the beginning, but he became infuriating later on as he turned more and more conservative and controlling. Alex isn't perfect either, but I understood and respected his values a lot more because he hadn't been raised in such a closed-minded way. 
If I could change something... I'd demonstrate more clearly the "rules" of the paranormal side of things — like how the vampires operate, how the sickness spreads, how the medical connects to the spiritual... Sometimes I was fine with the presence of the vampires in the story, but other times it just seemed incongruous/out of context for the Amish community setting and the social issues being discussed. It's a bit of a weird mix.

I also thought the writing style could be improved somewhat, by varying the sentence structure and quickening the pacing. There are some scenes where there's a lot of either ruminating — Katie can ruminate with the best of them on everything from philosophical and religious issues to more personal struggles — or info dumps. The latter are usually put into the guise of conversations, but basically they're just pages and pages of new information related to the world-building. Katie explains things about Amish culture periodically, and it comes off a little obvious, like the author is trying to jam in a bunch of facts. I also struggled a bit with the narration style — despite the fact that it's first-person POV, Katie has a rather distant way of narrating, and sometimes it feels like she is describing herself in third-person.

If you haven't read it: and you enjoy (or at the very least, don't mind) icky, gory scenes, and you're interested in seeing Amish culture and vampirism collide, this book is probably right up your alley. If you're looking for tons of fast-paced action, though, you'll probably be disappointed.

If you have read it: are you looking forward to book two? What are your predictions? I'm a little wary about the potential for a series; certainly we could use some more explanations about the vampires, but there's a danger of repetitive plot points. I suspect that after a while, one vampire attack could start to seem very much like any other.

Just one more thing I want to mention: in certain scenes the writing was quite evocative and atmospheric, giving off the necessary creepy vibe. Case in point: what happens when Katie relentlessly pursues her desire to get a Coke. I totally had the "this is a bad idea, Katie, don't do it" feeling, but of course, she does anyway...

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars.
The Hallowed Ones was not really my usual style, and while I liked some aspects of it, others I had issues with. Personally, there was a little too much gore for me, but I did enjoy some of the characterization and I am left wondering what happens next...so I'm sort of torn about whether or not to continue with the series.

Note: there is a significant amount of violent and gruesome content, so I would definitely not recommend this one for younger readers.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.


  1. The vampire aspect isn't a spoiler because it's the one main thing I've heard about this book: vamps + Amish.

    And I don't usually mind gore, but if it's not adding to the book, then I'd probably feel as you did, like it was just there to gross readers out.

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