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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

UPDATE! "Hollow City": Ransom Riggs' Sequel to "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"

Author:  Ransom Riggs
Title:  Hollow City
Plot Type:  Fantasy with a touch of horror
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor3
Publisher:  Quirk Books (1/2014) (available in hardback, CD, MP3, and e-book formats)

     September 3, 1940. Ten peculiar children flee an army of deadly monsters. And only one person can help them—but she’s trapped in the body of a bird. The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. 

     There, they hope to find a cure for their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. And before Jacob can deliver the peculiar children to safety, he must make an important decision about his love for Emma Bloom. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the PECULIAR CHILDREN series blends thrilling fantasy with vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

     Click HERE to read my overview of the world-building and my review of the first book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Click HERE to go to the Peculiar Children Wiki, which contains in-depth information about the setting and the characters. I don't recommend reading Hollow City as a stand-alone because it doesn't contain very much basic information about the series mythology. Also, you need to read the first book in order to understand how and why the peculiar children appear—in the opening scene—in two rowboats off the coast of Wales in the midst of World War II.

     As Hollow City opens, the year is 1941 and ten peculiar children have escaped from the destruction of their long-time home on Cairnholm Island. They are rowing as fast as they can towards mainland Wales, pursued by a submarine full of wights and hollowgasts (aka hollows). Also along for the ride is Alma LeFay Peregrine, who is stuck in her bird form. Miss Peregrine is an ymbryne—a shape-shifting manipulator of time and headmistress of Cairnholm's magical time loop. 

Here is a list of the children and their peculiar abilities:
Jacob Portman: the hero and narrator; he can see and sense hollows
Emma Bloom: Jacob's girlfriend; she can make fire with her hands
Bronwyn Bruntley: a large girl who is extremely strong
Millard Nullings: an invisible boy who is a scholar of all things peculiar
Olive Abroholos Elephanta: a girl who can float in the air
Horace Somnusson: a boy who has visions and dreams of the past and the future
Enoch O'Connor: a pessimistic boy who can temporarily animate the dead
Hugh Apiston: a boy who commands and protects great numbers of bees that live in his stomach
Claire Densmore: the youngest girl; she has an extra mouth in the back of her head
Fiona Frauenfeld: a mute girl who can make plants grow

     The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 follows the children as they complete their ocean journey, discover and enter a time loop populated by talking animals, and get help from a group of gypsies. Part 2 takes place in London (which is in the midst of Hitler's bombing Blitz), as the children search for Miss Wren, an ymbryne who (they hope) will help Miss Peregrine regain her human form. Throughout their journey, the children are constantly pursued by wights and hollows. Book 1 contains an extensive mythology for the wights and hollows, so I won't go into much detail here. For the purposes of this review, I'll just say that they are the villains and that they plan to capture the children and the ymbrynes for unspeakable purposes.

     As the children make their way to London, their peculiar skills come in handy several times. Jacob can always sense the presence of hollows, so he always gives the group plenty of warning. Emma saves them several times with her fiery talent, and Hugh twice comes to the rescue with his bees. Millard is also helpful because he is very familiar with an ancient book entitled Tales of the Peculiar, which contains stories that are relevant to their search for Miss Wren. Bronwyn's strength frequently comes in handy because she transports their heavy trunk on her back and she carries Claire, who tires quite easily. As for Claire and Fiona, their talents are never used in this book. The same goes for Enoch, who uses his necromancy skills only once, with unfortunate results fro the group. This treatment of the latter three characters is a definite weakness: Riggs makes Claire a burdensome child, Fiona a non-character, and Enoch a bullying complainer.

     The reason for this misuse of characters, I believe, is that in this book Riggs' story-telling is led by the weird photographs, whereas the plot of the first book is enhanced by the photos. Rather than supporting the narrative, many photographs (and their accompanying mini-story lines) actually detract from the main plot. This is particularly true of the bizarre animal photographs in chapters 3 and 4, where Riggs appears to have manipulated the story line solely for the purpose of including some particularly weird animal photographs. In chapter 8, Riggs includes a number of vintage photographs purportedly showing scenes of the London Blitz. These particular images are mentioned very briefly in passing, but have nothing to do with the story line. Even the photograph on the book's cover has only a tenuous connection to the plot. The hole-in-the-stomach girl is in just one scene before she and her sister turn their backs on the peculiar group. This awkward and manipulative use of photographs is one reason why Hollow City doesn't have either the coherence or the strange magical resonance of the first book.

     Another problem is that the peculiar children have suddenly turned into superheroes who go for three days and nights with hardly any sleep and with very little food, yet are able to out-fight and out-think their enemies with no serious injuries and without losing any members from their original group. In the first book, the peculiars suffered at the hands of the wights and hallows, but in this book the children are almost Scooby-Doo-ish as they lurch from one dangerous situation to the next, always winning the day in some unexpected and frequently outlandish manner. Each confrontation with their enemies plays out like a Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote parody. After awhile, you come to realize that, like the Roadrunner, the children will easily beat their enemies into complete submissiontime after time.

     Even though the first book is the stronger of the two, Hollow City is still an above-average read. Riggs is an eloquent writer with the ability to fully develop his characters (particularly Jacob) through their actions, dialogue, and relationships. Jacob is a terrific narrator, internally facing down his doubts and fears while maintaining a calm facade as he plunges ahead into this dark, often hopeless, world to which he has pledged his loyalty and support. Although he dreams of his real home and family, he also has strong emotional ties to his peculiar familyparticularly to Emma. Here, Jacob sums up the situation as the children search for Miss Wren in London: "So it had come to this: everything depended on a pigeon. Whether we would end the night in the womblike safety of an ymbryne's care or half chewed in the churning black of a hollow's guts; whether Miss Peregrine would be saved or we'd wander lost through this hellscape until her clock ran out; whether I would live to see my home or my parents againit all depended on one scrawny, peculiar penguin." 

     One of the most clever plot elements is the choice of location for the London time loop. I won't go into detail, except to point out that the children are searching for Miss Wren, and that there was a certain man with the same surname who had a major influence on London architecture. 

     The plot twist at the end is completely unexpected, and it adds a cliff-hanger ending to this second episode in the series. If you're looking for a stand-alone, this isn't the book for you. You need to read the first book for background on the world-building, and you'll need to read the third book for closure. (As I understand it, Riggs plans for this series to be a trilogy.)

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