The Hollow City by Dan WellsThe Hollow City by Dan Wells

Love it or hate it, The Hollow City is a fast, whirlwind read that will completely devour your time.

Having not read any other of 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.

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 since 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 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.

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 easy to sympathize 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 its 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 writer who somehow manages to take something that could easily be incredibly complex and makes it accessible.

The Hollow City — (2012) Publisher: Dan Wells won instant acclaim for his three-novel debut about the adventures of John Wayne Cleaver, a heroic young man who is a potential serial killer. All who read the trilogy were struck by the distinctive and believable voice Wells created for John. Now he returns with another innovative thriller told in a very different, equally unique voice. A voice that comes to us from the  realm of madness. 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.


  • Sarah Chorn

    SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.