April 27, 2005

Just A Story to Frighten Children: The Hollow Kingdom

The Young Adult Library Services Association's (YALSA) list of Best Books for Young Adults 2005 includes an absolutely FABULOUS book by Clare B. Dunkle called The Hollow Kingdom. From the very first page, I was hooked, as a sort of benignly malignant force kidnapped a very frightened and very desperate girl. Unlike most henchmen, the hooded villain didn't sneer. Much. He was almost genteel. And, unlike the kidnappings in most novels, there was no rescue. The nameless girl just...vanished.

Young girls have been disappearing in Hallow Hill for thousands of years, and sisters Kate and Emily, their parents lost to them, have been landed at the old house and are forced to live with spinster aunts and a miserly bachelor guardian. But something quite odd is going on, between getting lost in sight of home, "helpful" gypsies appearing in the dark, and Something watching them from the woods. When Kate learns the name of her fear, no one believes her, at first. Her guardian summons the psychiatrist. But there really are goblins under Hallow Hill. They're merciless. They're patient. And they've got plans for Kate.

From its mildly spooky beginning to its end, this is a thoroughly enjoyable tale, and I am especially smug that I read it before I knew it was a Junior Literary Guild pick, or a YALSA favorite! It truly deserves its kudos, however, as a quirky, humorous story of self-reliance, compromise and determination against daunting odds. The multifaceted characters are immediately engaging -- even the 'bad guys' are given a highly polished patina (that one of my favorite characters is a metal snake gives you an idea of just how skilled Dunkle is!), and the 'good guys' don't win all in the way you might expect. The detailed and sumptuously intricate world gives a tiny nod to a less Disney-fied castle of Beauty & The Beast, but it's only a shadow of that simple story plus a whole lot more.

And the best news yet? It's another trilogy! What a great treat for the reader! Close Kin is the next in the series, followed by In the Coils of the Snake , which is due to be released October of 2005.

This series was my favorite find so far this month. Check it out!

1 comment:

tanita s. davis said...

I just read Close Kin, and while it was a good read in terms of futhering the story, it definitely doesn't have the spooky genius of the first book in the series.

Em's older sister, Kate was, in the first novel, drawn with more detail, and the storyline given more complex anxieties as she fought surrendering both her above-ground life, and her personality to someone who ultimately had the power to simply overwhelm her and win. It doesn't seem like Em is fighting against anything but her big mouth and hasty generalizations, and those aren't nearly as interesting. Though she is supposed to be 18, her character comes across as petty and immature, immersed with mothering the little goblin children to the point of insensibility, and then, just as easily, abandoning them for a capital 'q' Quest to both 'rescue' Seylin, and show Ruby that the world above has something to offer. Dunkle really misses a chance to make a believable and memorable character with Em, and the less than subtle foreshadowing about Til comes clumsily late in the book, eliciting more aggravation than actual concern.

It's hard to resist writing what I call a "bridge book" in writing serial novels; far better for Dunkle to have just written one huge tome to span all three novels instead of breaking things down piecemeal. Close Kin is only a so-so addition to The Hollow Kingdom. I'm a bit disappointed.