Retro Friday Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle


February 15, 2013 by Heidi

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!

The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. DunkleTitle: The Hollow Kingdom [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Clare B. Dunkle [Website|Facebook]
Standing: Book 1 in The Hollow Kingdom  trilogy. Can be read as a stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Retelling
Published: October 1st, 2003 by Henry Hold and Co. BYR
Format: Hardcover; 240 pages
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from Hallow Hill, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have moved there with no idea of the land’s dreadful heritage–until Marak decides to tell them himself. Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be the goblin king, and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom . . .

This book.  THIS BOOK.  You know those books that come along every once in a while that you utterly fall in love with to the point of hugging them?  THIS BOOK.  The last occasion I can pinpoint such a reaction was my reading of Howl’s Moving Castle, so yes, this is BIG NEWS.  There’s just something about Clare B. Dunkle’s writing that is simultaneously starkly real and utterly charming–it hits the heart in ways that so few books have the power to do, no matter how wonderful their stories may be.  In fact, I knew after one paragraph this was going to be among my favorite books:

She had never screamed before, not when she overturned the rowboat and almost drowned, not when the ivy broke and she crashed into the shrubbery below, not even when Lightfoot bucked her off and she felt her leg break underneath her with an agonizing crunch.  She hadn’t even known that she could.  Screaming was Lizzy’s job, and Lizzy was terribly good at it.  But now she screamed, long and loud, with all her breath.

And that’s just the prologue.  In fact, the particular characters involved in that paragraph aren’t even living by the time The Hollow Kingdom truly gets started, and yet I knew this book would speak to my heart.

At its core, The Hollow Kingdom is a retelling of one of my favorite tales–Beauty and the Beast.  It has all of the bare bone elements of that story that we are familiar with, and yet somehow becomes its own fully fledged tale of perseverance, love, and feminism.  Yes, it is a small book at 240 pages aimed toward Middle Grade readers, but like my beloved Frances Hardinge, Clare B. Dunkle writes for an ageless audience, bringing a maturity and depth to the pages that will be appreciated by countless readers.

What struck me about this Beauty and the Beast retelling is that it’s not about our Beauty (Kate) being locked away with the Beast (Marak, the goblin King) and slowly falling for him as he inevitably returns to a handsome state of being.  It is about Kate’s persistent resistance to Marak’s propositions, and slow realization that monsters can wear human faces as well as kind souls can be hidden behind terrible features.  Kate is a character who refuses to be robbed of her free will, even as those around her attempt to make her decisions for her, while Marak is a creature who remains as inhumanly ugly as he is inhumanly rude, but whose honesty and care for his people earns our love regardless.

Kate is innocent, but she is not stupid–an important distinction that is too often blurred in young people.  In her world, it is easy to assume that those meant to protect you will, and that those ugly things that come to steal you at night are foul and loathsome–but she doesn’t let herself be taken in by either.  As the guardians of Kate and her little sister Emily slowly back her into a corner she begins to utilize the hard lessons of humanity, knowing that lies can save her where truth cannot.

Marak, however, never lies.  The goblin King is honest and frank to a point of frightening Kate with the situation he intends to force her to, but he also withholds information from her when she chooses to assume the worst of his kingdom.  Marak’s frank conversations with the inquisitive and fearless Emily mark our ability to fall for him, knowing that he would never hurt Kate.  I find myself disturbed that this was a book where I actively wanted the girl to end up with the stalkery guy who wanted to steal her away from everything, but I am so happy that nothing ever turns out quite as you might expect it to.

Marak sees Kate for who she is, not merely for the beauty she displays on the surface, and in time she does the same for him.  While the human world is decrying Kate for her weak nerves she is bashing about proving quite the opposite.  Both Kate and Marak are outrageously stubborn, the qualities they share being those that initially drive the biggest wedge between them, and later bind them oh so tight.  Marak’s protectiveness for Kate comes with a disturbing price, but a weaker character on either of their parts would spell defeat for all.

I love the fact that in a story where a King’s wife can never be called a Queen, it is still the King’s wife who proves most important to the kingdom.  The Hollow Kingdom is a book that reflects acute grief and homesickness, joy and wonder, and also the inevitable mixing of the two.  In the end Marak has never lied to Kate, and never been wrong in all of the cruel things he has predicted for her fate, and yet those days of tears and darkness pale to nothing in the light of love.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I’m so nervous about the rest of this trilogy, because I’ve seen much lower ratings for the next couple of books, but maybe going in with lowered expectations will help?  I love Emily and Seylin though, so I think Catie and I are resolute to read Close Kin together sometime soon.

Recommended for:  This isn’t just a book for lovers of Beauty and the Beast, because in many ways it is stronger than that.  It’s the perfect book for those who love marvelous world building, the difficult realities of love, and incredibly strong female characters.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  The Roman’s Sabine women were brought up a few times during the course of this story, which of course made the whole thing also reminiscent of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers…ah Stockholm Syndrome, why are you sometimes so attractive?

Get a second opinion:
The Readventurer – “This book is exactly the type of fairy tale that I love the most.”
Angieville – “The Hollow Kingdom is completely enchanting. It was the characters that won me over.”
YA Anonymous – “The Hollow Kingdom has several important differentiations from the trope that makes it one of my favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings to date.”


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  1. Catie says:

    Oh Heidi, I love this review so much! And I’m so thrilled that you fell hard for this book. I can’t wait to read the next books and I hope (pleasepleaseplease) that they’re both just as awesome as this one.

    • Heidi says:

      Thank YOU, Catie, for bringing this one to my attention! I’m so utterly in love with it. We’ll have to go for Close Kin once if we’ve survived Infinite Jest. 😛

  2. Gosh, another Beauty and the Beast re-telling? How can I resist? After Heart’s Blood, I’ve fallen in love with that fairy tale and the fact that the goblin never changes into a handsome prince is so refreshing! I have a feeling I’ll love this, so I definitely have to pick it up ASAP. Also, if you like books about Stockholm Syndrome, you should read Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Anyway, thanks for the lovely review, Heidi! :)

    • Heidi says:

      YES, and it’s SO GOOD!!! Also–I really need to read Heart’s Blood! I think I’ll probably read the 3rd Sevenwaters book and then read Heart’s Blood. Also I WANT to read Stolen by Lucy Christopher! Hehe, hopefully that’ll be another one for my Aussie Women challenge this year.

  3. OMG, you are my favorite person ever, both for giving me such a wonderful-sounding book to add to my TBR AND for referencing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I LOVE that movie, rampant sexism aside.


  4. Lisa says:

    Okay, don’t judge but I had not even thought of this as a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I know! I am noob.

    Anyway, my love for this book also knows no bounds! Her style of writing is captivating, yet never lofty. The relationship between Marak and Kate is so complicated, yet so simple and relateable. Gahhhh i looooove this!

    • Heidi says:

      Oh you could totally not see this as a Beauty and the Beast retelling if you weren’t told that going in, Lisa! Especially since he’s not a cursed prince or anything. I’m SO HAPPY to find someone else who loves this book though, everything about it just captured my heart.

  5. I stumbled across Dunkle’s work by chance in my library, and really enjoyed her Martin Glass dystopian duet, as I though it was strongly written and unique. I haven’t had much of a chance to read more of her books or really look more into Dunkle. I will do so now!

    • Heidi says:

      Oooh, good to hear! I’d love to check out her other work as well, it all seems so different (but if it’s all THIS well done, it’ll be amazing).

  6. Basically I read the first sentence of your review and added it to my TBR on GR. Then I keep reading and find it is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast? SIGN ME UP!

    Also LOLed here: “ah Stockholm Syndrome, why are you sometimes so attractive?” WHY IS THIS SO TRUE?!

    • Heidi says:

      GOOD, because I can totally see you loving this one. And yeah and the Stockholm Syndrome, I mean, just look at Bran and Liadan!

  7. Oh my gosh, it’s been years since I watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Now I want to watch the movie. And also The Music Man and Singing in the Rain (the best movie-musical of ALL time!).

    Anyway, onto the book. I’ve never even heard of this book before. But it looks like something right up my all (I am all for book hugging :) ). I am going to put it on hold for myself right when I get to work on Tuesday.

    • Heidi says:

      Oh I also LOVE The Music Man, you have no idea. I was raised on these movies. And considering you like reading for this age range and fairy tales, I really think this would be a win for you, Quinn!

  8. Angie says:

    Yep. There’s really nothing at all in the world not to like about this book. I adored it instantly. The relationship between the goblin king and his bride was always honest, which is really what won me over, I think. It was painfully honest sometimes. But so true.

    • Heidi says:

      YES, it was, but it was also honest about that pain which I really appreciated. It showed that even if you love someone, that doesn’t make life easy.

  9. I got this book a few months back and it’s sitting right on top of my bedside table. So glad to read your review of it, Heidi, and even more thrilled that you, a discerning reader and lover of fantasy and fairy tale re-telling’s, gives it a thumbs up:)

  10. Ummm….so, yes, adding this to my TBR list! I’ve read a TON of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings for research in college, but somehow I didn’t hear about this book. Oh well. I will definitely have to rectify that problem very soon. Your review makes me want to go to my own library right now, but I will restrain myself. I also am very intrigued by the idea that Beauty and the Beast characters aren’t isolated, that Beauty’s character has a sister there. It should make for an interesting dynamic. And your descriptions of Kate and Marak’s characters sounds so fantastic. I don’t read MG, but I will make exceptions for books like this, and Valente and Hardinge’s books, I think. :)

    Just an extra note: Obviously I haven’t read this book yet, but I’m curious why you think it’s even stronger than Beauty and the Beast. In the original tale (which is far better than the Disney version), we are exposed to basically all those points you’re making about why this is such a good retelling. I guess I just get a little defensive of this story after studying for such an extended period of time haha. Have you read the original? If not, you really should!

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! Amanda, I really think this one is totally up your alley. And I didn’t even think of the fact that they aren’t isolated, but they’re not at all! In fact, Marak being kind to Kate’s sister is a big thing that wins us (and her) over to him. Also yes, this, Valente, Hardinge, may technically be MG, but they really bridge all ages.

      I have to admit, I haven’t read the original! I’ve had it on my Kindle for literally years, and I really need to sit down and get to it one of these days, particularly when I love the story so much.

  11. […] Hollow Kingdom by Clara B. Dunkle I saw this book reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks, and knew I had to read it.  I put it on hold immediately, and it came into the library for me […]

  12. […] that it took me this long to hear about this book – I became aware of it when my good friend Heidi mentioned that she loved it. I checked this book’s Goodreads page and saw that several other blogger friends have enjoyed […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.