Book Review: The Hollow City by Dan Wells


I waited plenty long enough. There were other books in line, but I’ve been waiting over a month to read this book. It was time for some Dan Wells.

If you’re expecting another book along the lines of the John Cleaver trilogy…well, don’t. Wells is trying something very different in this book–in many ways more difficult. I’m not sure he carries it off as well, but I’m also not sure that’s his fault other than trying the concept in the first place.

John Cleaver was a sociopath. We knew he couldn’t interpret human emotions the same way we can, but we could relate to that. Who among us feels they really understand human emotions all the time? But Michael Shipman is a paranoid schizophrenic. That is much, much harder to relate to.

It’s also a more difficult point of view to tell a story from. Most books we know that in a first person narrative we’re not going to get the truth all the time. We’re going to get the truth as filtered through the perspective of the narrator. But in this case the things the narrator is responding to and reporting to us aren’t even the truth. He sees things that aren’t there. We don’t know what is real and what is not. We may form our opinions, but there’s a good chance they will be wrong.

But in the case of this book, not everything Michael sees and believes are false. As the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

What happens to Michael is interesting and, at least initially, compelling. His experiences in receiving treatment are informative and classic Wells. But ultimately, while you want to believe Michael, Wells keeps the ground beneath us from solidifying enough to really want to trust what is going on. In the end I stopped trying to figure it out, stopped investing in the plot. I wanted to see how things would end, what the real truth might be (and I rightly trusted Wells to give us a truth we could hang our hat on eventually), but not really because I cared about Michael.

In short, it’s almost the opposite book from the John Cleaver series.

I enjoyed it. It was fun trying to figure out what was real, what was going on–at least until I gave up. It certainly doesn’t shake my faith in Wells. He told a difficult and imaginative story in the best way it could be done. I’ll be back for more. But if given a choice, I’d rather read more John Cleaver than Michael Shipman.

On the other hand, Wells drops a lovely hat tip to the original “A-Team” series, and probably a nod to “Children of the Corn”. You have to like a guy who respects the classics.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hollow City by Dan Wells”

    1. Duuuude. You, like, read it? Congratulations? Another triumph for modern education?

      By the way, I fully understand if you hate your parents for naming you “Replica”. Though “Replica B. Watches” has a certain ring to it. Run for president some time on a government accountability platform. Your slogan could be, “Watch Watches watch the watchers!”

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