Author: Clare B. Dunkle
Page Count: 230 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
50 words or less: Kate and Emily are orphans in Victorian England who are sent to live with distant relatives on a remote country estate. After stumbling across mysterious riders, Kate and Emily's lives take a turn for the wacky when they're carried away to live with goblins under the lake in the woods.
Someone had recommended The Hollow Kingdom to me awhile ago, and I wish I could remember who it was because I would totally thank them for cluing me in to an excellent trilogy.
The Hollow Kingdom begins in Victorian England, with Kate and Emily, two recently orphaned sisters, showing up on the doorstep of a cousin who has (reluctantly) agreed to be their guardian. They're supposed to live with two nice but terminally disconnected great-aunts and basically wait around until someone decides to marry them. While they're out exploring the woods and the nature around the house, they discover many beautiful places, all of which are described richly and elegantly in the narrative. They also discover a mysterious band of riders and a bunch of legends about goblins and about the perilous fate that awaits the virginal girls the goblins carry off to their dark, dank and dreary homeland.
That's all well and good, except the legends are anything but, and the truth is actually way more wacky than the story. The goblins are very real indeed, and led by their king, Marak, who must marry someone who's not a goblin and have a sun, so that the magic of the goblin race can continue. Marak doesn't much care how he comes by his bride, and indeed tradition has always dictated that he just cart her off, but some seriously well done plot twists ensure that Kate actually not only goes to the goblin kingdom willingly, but totally reforms everyone's opinions of what she's like once she gets there.
While Kate is more quiet and serious, Emily is bombastic and energetic- the whole situation is just a grand adventure to her, and she helps Kate to see other sides of what appear at the beginning to be pretty hopeless situations. According to Amazon, Emily is the heroine of the second book of this trilogy, called Close Kin, so hopefully we'll see more of her there.
The Hollow Kingdom reminded me very much of a sort of Bizarro-World love story. Kate and Marak are an extremely unlikely couple and at first, it doesn't seem like things are going to work out all that well, but as time passes, it becomes clear that something like love is starting to blossom. This is one of my favorite passages from the book and it kind of sums up the dynamics of Kate and Marak's relationship perfectly. It happens after Kate is shown the chronicles where the goblin kinds record the comings and goings of the lives of the goblin queens:
"Marek?" she said softly, turning toward him. He laid his cheek against her hair.
"What is it?" he asked quietly.
"Do you write about me?" she asked. He nodded. "What kinds of things do you write?"
"The same sorts of things as the other Kings," he said. "What you love about your new life, what you hate."
"What do I love?" she wondered.
"It hasn't been very long," he answered, "but I think you love coming with me to my workroom."
Kate thought about that. As the realm's greatest magician, the goblin King worked magic all the time, whether he was healing illness, supporting building projects, or making sure the correct weather occurred. Sitting on her high stool, Kate watched him preparing and mixing things, and he showed her odd bits of magic as he studied and practiced. She enjoyed the magic; it was one of the things she was starting to appreciate about her unusual husband. The workroom was like a refuge to her. It was almost the only place in the entire kingdom where no one was watching her.
"I do love the workroom," she said softly. "What do I hate about my new life?"
"Being locked in," he answered. "Being stared at, being teased."
"If you know I hate being teased," she asked, "why do you always do it?"
"Because that's one of the things about your new life that I love," he chuckled. That made her smile. "And I write about the milestones that the Kings look for their wives to pass. The first time you spoke to me--that was when you met me. The first time you called me by name--that was the day after you came here. The first time you smiled at me--that was a week after you came here, but the first time you smiled because you were really glad to see me--that was only a month ago. The first time you were happy when you woke up in the morning, full of plans you wanted to accomplish..." He fell silent.
"When was that?" Kate wanted to know.
"That one hasn't happened yet," he admitted. "Maybe tomorrow."
"Kate shifted in his arms and laid her head against his chest.
"Maybe so," she murmered, closing her eyes.
Certainly not a traditional romance, but still sweet. Things definitely blossom between Kate and Marek and, of course, there's a barrier to the happily ever after that helps everyone realize what their true feelings are.
The Hollow Kingdom reminded me of fairy tales mixed with Harry Potter and a slight dash of creepy gothic and horror novels. It was a great combination and I'm definitely excited to read the rest of the trilogy.
Overall Grade: A