Had I read this book in high school, I think I would have undying nostalgic love for it. It's very Neverwhere, Dirk Gently, early Terry Pratchett in iHad I read this book in high school, I think I would have undying nostalgic love for it. It's very Neverwhere, Dirk Gently, early Terry Pratchett in its sensibilities and presents an interesting alternate history but is just a bit too focused on being zany....more
What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees l4/5. This and other reviews posted at EditorialEyes Book Reviews.
What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’s sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too. His particular talent is for seeing the monsters, particularly wights and hollowgast, that stalk the Peculiar children for unknown but undoubtedly sinister reasons. And when last we left them, they were on the run from their time loop haven in 1940 after rescuing their ymbryne, or bird-shapeshifting protector, Miss Peregrine from evil hollow clutches.
And the fact that Jacob is from our present, trapped in the wartorn British 1940 countryside, is the least of his worries. The hollowgast are on the Peculiar Children’s trail, and Miss Peregrine is injured and unable to escape her bird form. Worse, the other Peculiar havens have been destroyed, their ymbrynes kidnapped. If this seems like a lot to catch up on, it is: you don’t want to pick up Hollow City without having read the first volume of Miss Peregrine adventures.
But once you’re caught up, Hollow City is a worthy second installment. Dropping directly into the action without a breather, we find the children having just rescued Miss Peregrine and rowing their way from their destroyed island to Mainland England. The gast have infiltrated the German army and are after the children in submarines and planes. The children’s flight takes them from a hidden Peculiar menagerie to a Gyspy camp to the heart of London and their only hope of saving Miss Peregrine before she’s trapped in bird form forever.
Like its predecessor, the immediate draw of Hollow City is Riggs’s use of very strange antique photographs he’s culled from flea markets and estate sales. These creepy (one shows a girl floating off the ground, another a child with a mouth on the back of her head) and atmospheric (dead horses strewn along a country road, trees growing from a skull-shaped island) images served as Riggss’ guide for shaping his story. He had the photos first, and he wrote the story from them. The book is positively peppered with pictures, and they are very much a part of the story, adding to the tone and narrative. While the story could stand alone without them, it would be the poorer for it. You’ll want to read this book to see what visual the next page brings. The writing is cinematic in description and scope. This series will easily be adapted into movies (it’s already been optioned by Tim Burton).
In this one, Riggs wisely weeds out a few Peculiar characters for the flight to London. By concentrating on a smaller number of them, the children are given a chance to stand on their own and escape one-dimensional characterization. Free from their safe, familiar time loop and the watchful eye of their ymbryne in human form, the children have a chance to show fear and bravery, as well as their advanced age (most of them are pushing a hundred, though they still look and mostly act like children). They’re able to grow, and so are the hollowgast, whose powers and motivations become clearer and scarier in this volume.
The weak note is Jacob, whose thoughts and dialogue are often too stiff and adult. Jacob is meant to be a teenaged boy from our present, but he comes across as stilted and not quite real. While this formal voice works well for the children, who have been living in 1940 for decades, it feels false in Jacob And we never get as clear a picture of him as we do of the people surrounding him. This stiltedness sometimes extends to the shape the story takes, as well. Because the story is formed around existing strange pictures, plot points at times feel artificial, taking the story to a place it might not organically have gone if such a photograph didn’t exist and Riggs didn’t want to include it.
Even so this is a highly readable book, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Harrowing chases over sea and land, new discoveries about Peculiar people, animals, mythology, geography, and history, and the urgency of finding a way to save Miss Peregrine make for a breathless pace. The Peculiar plight is combined with a World War II setting, upping the danger factor the children find themselves in. New characters are interesting and move the plot forward, and it’s exciting read about the children using their Peculiar powers to get out of suspenseful scrapes. And the book itself, with its layout and paper and footers and chapter dividers, is a thing of beauty. (Avoid the ebook. I read the first installment on my Kindle, and it loses a lot of its inherent creepiness when it’s not a beautifully crafted object.)
While this book tends toward the artificial and at times slightly awkward because of its incorporation of preexisting photographs, it’s nevertheless a highly worthwhile strange, escapist read. Its world is well imagined, its circumstances dire. Like the first book, this one ends on a big cliffhanger. I didn’t see the ending coming at all, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next....more
In a fantastical medieval kingdom, an extraordinary girl aspires to more than a stra3/5. For this and other reviews, visit EditorialEyes Book Blog.
In a fantastical medieval kingdom, an extraordinary girl aspires to more than a strategic marriage and many babies. Daughter of the king's most trusted advisor, Aoife (pronounced "Ee-fah") is drawn to maps. From an early age she notices things like the geometry of spiderwebs, the planes and angles that make up the world around her. She becomes apprentice to the kingdom's mapmaker and then succeeds him, with the help of her father and of Wyl, crown prince of the realm and childhood friend. While mapping the river that forms one of the kingdom's borders, Aoife crosses to the other side and discovers a settlement unlike any she has ever known before: a people, a way of life, and a mythology that are truly magical.
But her discovery, and the rumours she brings back of great wealth guarded by a dragon, sparks a war. She follows Wyl , who wants more than just friendship from her, on his quest to find the dragon, while insidious younger prince Raef accelerates hostilities. Aoife finds herself with a burgeoning allegiance to the people across the river, known as Guardians. Soon her life is torn in two and she must begin again, leaving behind her family, her children, and her kingdom.
For all that I found charming and original in this book, I was also frustrated throughout.Where it succeeds most is in its mythos. The mythology of the Guardians is beautifully crafted. Their rituals and philosophy and indeed their whole way of life are all fascinating, and discovering them through Aoife's eyes makes them accessible. Each story of Egnis the dragon, Ingot the dwarf, and Azul the orphan is beautiful and the way these tales echo through the real world captivates. Domingue writes tantalizing glimpses of the dragon and her realm, and Aoife's path to reach the dragon is one of magic--both within the story and in terms of storytelling.
Description is rich, and social commentary is never preachy. The book makes beautiful arguments about how different points of view can cast situations in different ways. The Guardians live in a communist Utopia, while the kingdom seeks to gain wealth and land. The Guardians accept any orphan, actual or metaphorical, into their community and expect nothing in return. "The Guardians saw linkages, not lines," Aoife tells us. These linkages allow Aoife and the Guardians to traverse vast distances in no time, and to offer empathy where the people of the kingdom would seek only gain. Brilliant, the break between the two halves of Aoife's life allows for a linkage between these two worlds for both Aoife and the narrative. Her struggle to accept all that she has left behind adds depth to her character. Indeed, she is a fleshed out, wonderfully human, sometimes difficult to like character, and she is one of the best parts of the book.
Most other characters, unfortunately, are diminished to character sketches or two-dimensional character types. Of course Wyl is the goodhearted but weak-willed prince, and Raef is immediately identifiable as the villain. Aoife's second love, the Guardian Leit (pronounced "Light") is good in spite of something terrible he has suffered and still bares the burden of. Their daughter is, of course, a prodigy, more magical and powerful than anyone has ever seen before, veering dangerously close to "Chosen One" tropes. Aoife's brother Ciaran has no discernible personality at all, so it's difficult to feel any emotion when she loses or finds him.
This loss of more fully realized characterization seems to happen for two reasons: the book's style and its length. The Mapmaker's War is a memoir of sorts, framed as Aoife-the-elderly telling herself her own life's story. Very unfortunately, this means the author wrote the book in the second person, and without quotation marks for any dialogue: "A fantastic tale you must know, said he. We'll see, you said. So it's story-time for you, said he. Raef shouted, Enter." While this does add an air of exoticism to the tale, it also serves to distance the reader rather than connect us to Aoife. Because she is an old woman admonishing herself for past mistakes and glossing over details she doesn't deem important, so much of this magical story is lost to us. We see almost nothing of characters not immediately interacting with Aoife, and most of them appear only in passing. Worse, we see almost none of the titular war, which should be a huge part of the plot. And because she is telling us her entire life story, from very small girlhood into her elderly years, so much is raced over that there isn't any real plot or build-up to a climax. Things happen, time marches on. It's hard to become engaged in the events at hand.
Second, this book should have been at least a hundred pages longer. So much is barely touched on that I wanted to know more about. This isn't just a case of "draw your own conclusions." Big gaps in the plot, especially with regard to the war, feel totally unfinished. As a minor quibble, I also felt a bit ripped off at the lack of maps in a book about a mapmaker. There are lovely simple drawings that appear throughout to illuminate the text, but there are no maps. It seems like a missed opportunity.
Still, Aoife is a strong, troubled, interesting female lead, and the book has interesting things to say about gender, motivation, and love. The magic is quite real when it appears through the obfuscating second person narrative and strained, formal voice. Had it been given more room to unfold, and had it been told in a first person, this book could have been brilliant. As it is, it's an interesting, frustrating read infused with intense moments of pain and beauty....more