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!
Title: 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.”