Monday, June 20, 2011

The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Why was this not an adult book? Right now, I so want this to be an adult romance so I can un-blackout the good stuff. Stop fast forwarding and phasing out! I want to read it all! This book should also be longer so I can read all the mushy goodness. I tried to write without spoilers, but failed because this book really sucked me in. So if you haven’t read the book, you have been warned there will be spoilers.
This book was on my list for quite some time, but I just kept putting it off. After I read it, I refused to put it down and re-read at least dozen times. How anyone can resist such a wonderful story, Beauty and the Beast retelling with a twist, was beyond me. Seeped in magic and folklore, this story had a pretty strong historical setting (which rather surprised me) with very interesting characters. Of course, when I was gushing to my friend she had to add “oh, like Shrek?” >_< I thought about it and she is sort of right, except this was more grounded in history and folklore than Disney fairytales. The Hollow Kingdom is also grittier and scarier. I even want to say it is more horror based, but that does not fully explain the feeling of the book.
Kate and her little sister Emily recently lost their father. The two moved to the land Kate would one day inherit called the Hallow Hill. Once there, Kate began to encounter very odd people on the land and was told of disturbing stories about the Hallow Hill. Stories of goblins and young women being stolen as goblin brides (a common fairytale/folklore motif *squeal*) made the place even more eerie, but it was not until the night she met Marak did Kate began to fear for her and Emily’s safety. Even scared, Kate was a character to be reckoned with and we were able to see the depth of her strength, especially in her love for Em. She refused to give up without fight and to the end, fought for those she loves. A strong, smart and responsible young woman – very cool character.
Emily, also known as Em and M, was adorable and I loved her for it. She’s that voice we have inside, you know the one: the sweet accepting voice that still believed in fairytales and magic. Smart and observant, but also adventurous, Em was probably my favorite tied with Adele. :D
Marak, the current Goblin King of the true Hallow Hill, decided he wanted Kate for his wife and tries to kidnap her, only to be foiled several times. Why kidnap? Well, to bring new blood into the goblin bloodline, each King must marry a young woman of different breed. Human, elf, gnome, etc. but the best were women with characters the King admires. Since goblins were usually feared by others due to their asymmetrical features (which do not matter to goblins since it’s all about strength and asymmetry was seen as the norm), goblins usually have to kidnap the more “desirable” wives in order to produce a strong heir. Marak also pointed out to Kate, goblins could not go around wooing young women the way other creatures do, thus it was more practical to have a captured bride.
Each King will only have one heir and the heir will always be male. He will become the next King and protect their home and people. Marak fully understands the importance of his responsibilities and makes no apologies for what has to be done. He does not feel bad for Kate, but rather admires her strengths and constant foils – commenting nonstop at how great the next King will be because of how strong Kate was. As such, there were many instances revealed Marak’s caring and understanding towards Kate, Emily and people in general. He was a good King and very funny. I found myself more time than I could count laughing at some of the things (and the way) he observed the word and commented on everything. Maybe it was just goblins, but if they all had this honest sense of humor, I would not mind being around them either.
This was a really good book, imho. Really good, but there were several things that nagged at me after I finished.
It was kind of disconcerting everything was stated in such a flippant matter-of-fact way that there was no room for change. I get that the story was one should not judge based on appearances and that humans are sometimes more horrific than goblins, but at the same time… it was still creepy especially since we’re all aware which activities were involved to make babies. I get the feeling that a captured bride did not equate a forced wedding night and the author had Marak reiterate several times that the sooner the King’s Wife adjusted, the sooner the Heir will be born. I took it as the King would not forcibly try to impregnate the King’s Wife until she agreed. Kate revealed she enjoyed “kissing” with Marak and it was her favorite part of being married. Thus when the surprise came at the end, it was not a surprise. It also reinforced the idea that the women have a choice in marital sex. Then again, this aspect still made me uncomfortable even after I put the book down.
Granted, goblins were noble creatures, just not lookers. Goblins do not lie and do not harm unless to protect or bring upon revenge (which goblins loved to do). The way the goblins were portrayed did help sooth the above issue I had and did allow me to continue my suspension of disbelief. It was just kind of…I don’t know, disturbing that once you’re kidnapped and forced to marry someone, and never allowed to see your family/friends/world again and you only recourse was the accept it or die. Rather bleak…
Another annoying thing was the story jumped forward in time during the last half of the story. It was a pity since I felt that was where the core of the action and bulk of the relationship solidified. The interaction between Marak and Kate was wonderful and I really wanted to see more, not a year later…or a month ago. O_o
I also would have loved to read more about Adele, Marak’s human mother (and some of the other Wives – Charm’s favorites, of course, hehehe). Her story sounded kick-ass.
One thing I felt unnecessary was Marak’s first wife. Not that he wasn’t allowed a previous wife, but the information felt so much of a throwaway. It did not push the story forward at all and it just made me feel she was used. First to show not all King’s Wives were suitable. Then to show how Marak was a kind and caring person. Lastly, to contrast against the Elf King whom apparently died without an heir after his Wife passed away and pretty much doomed the elves. It just made me feel really bad for her. I saw later the author had cut out a few scenes that would have expanded on Annie – the first wife. It made more sense after I read the scenes, but that would not change the fact she was used. I would rather have any references of her left out completely and have more time for Marak/Kate interaction or even the history of goblins.
Also, in line with stolen brides, the fact that the goblins idea of helping/saving the elves species was to kidnap more elf women before the blood was gone…eh…it just felt wrong for me.
Another thing that also bothered me was *spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* the fact Kate and Emily were part elf. Not that I don’t mind them having elf blood and again, the author was good a dropping hints so I was not taken by surprise. What bothered me was that after I read the revelation it did kind of put a frown in on my face going “oh, they’re all magical” and made me feel a little disappointed. Even so, I loved the fact it became a sweet nickname, Marak’s little elf.
It was a definite exciting read and much too short for the amount of information packed in. There was so much room for expansion and it left me wanting more, or at least a lot of re-readings. lol. Heck, I felt the book could have been split into two just to fully tell the full story. Book one could be the meeting, marriage and the two characters slowly learning each other. Book two could’ve then been about the subplot of the sorcerer and end with the true union of Marak and Kate. Then again, the author could have done a prequel about Adele (yes, I really do like Adele).
And yes, I know this book is the first in the trilogy and as much as I love this book (re-read it like twice in one day…working day, hehehe), I doubt I would read the rest, at least not the third book (*spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* since Marak past away and it was about Catspaw, their child). Maybe I should say “I’m going to resist for as long as I can but it all caves into a big pile of booklurving goodness” (at least the second book, I do like “M”).
The prose felt authentic for the most part. I mentioned earlier the book had a nice historical context, which I enjoyed. It almost felt real, like I can go visit Hallow Hill and chance upon a goblin. I know I know the matter-of-fact way the goblins talked about stolen brides and revenge made me uncomfortable, but the flip-side was it made everything more the fun to read. Don’t ask me why, but the bluntness of Marak – it just gave the book a whole layer of humor to the book. The author had a way of making me smile even under the craziest and sometime scariest circumstances.
Overall though, the book was a great full of all the magical trimmings (although I would’ve enjoyed learning more about the magical workings of the world). I loved how Hallow Hill was described. After this book, I’ve come to love goblins more (at least in this world) and made me realize why I used to feel kind of sad for the “evil goblins” in many folklores and fairytales. Each character felt alive even if the description was only a few lines, i.e. love Hulk…poor sweet Hulk. Kate could have turned into an annoying character and Marak could have been totally unlikable. Yet the author was able to paint them in such vivid strength, their awareness and caution, their acceptance and care, all of it helped pull the book into such greatness. Oh, such wonderful wonderful book.
Conclusion: definitely good read. Will re-read often. And this was one of the books that helped pull me out of a reading slump. Love reading a lot.
My favorite line: “When she cried, he held her patiently, which was the best thing that a great magician could do for a crying wife.” - How can you not love this book?

1 comment:

  1. you remind me of The Castle in the Sky. This book looks like a The Red Fairy Book.