Athena's Reviews > Emilie and the Hollow World

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy-sf, female-lead, steampunk, strong-women, young-adult
Recommended for: midschool/YA, steampunk, victoriana

I picked this up since I enjoy middlegrade/YA fiction but even more because I became a Martha Wells enthusiast after reading her utterly splendid Books of the Raksura series. No surprise, Wells doesn't disappoint in her first foray into youth lit though I think she's still working toward a more polished voice for younger readers. Still this is a worthy read if you enjoy youth fiction, or are an actual youth (chronologically that is: frankly we're all still 12 years old internally at some point in the day … some days I don't make it past 7!)

Wells is a brilliant world-builder, creating worlds that deserve far more attention in Our World than she gets (movie rights? some of her plots would make terrific blockbusters!); the world-building in Emilie and the Hollow World is top-notch Vernian gaslamp rip-roarin' adventure. 16 year old Emilie runs away from an unpleasant home life and ends up accidentally stowed away on a top secret trip to: DUM DUM DUM, the center of the earth! (not ours, some 'other' earthy world that has magic driving its steam-driven tech)

Emilie herself is described as a young woman of color from a nation where Southerners tend to be darker and Northerners paler, a novel touch in youth SF/Fantasy. She has the requisite intelligence, spunk and slight lack of foresight often found in youth in general and particularly in fiction, but she is a young person of true character: honest, courageous, loyal and clever. Wells does use Emilie to over-explain sometimes and it's that aspect of the writing that needs a bit more faith in her audience, although it's a fine line to walk (type?) even when writing 'straight' youth fiction. Something as different and intricate as Emilie's own Victoriana-steampunk surface world takes a deft touch to convey to readers, adding in the highly imaginative Hollow World makes the task that much harder. This book one is thickly yummy lasagna of plot & world, and yummy lasagnas sometimes take a lot of describing. ;)

The grown-up humans aren't as fleshed-out as in Wells' adult fiction but the adult Hollow Worlders who befriend Emilie are satisfyingly realized: this all feels right to me as we're seeing this through Emilie's eyes and the adage that children accept the unusual more easily than adults does apply (and they also, even at 16, almost need to slightly stereotype the adults around them to emotionally manage their lives.) I enjoyed this switch from many novels where alien characters aren't fully realized while humans are more realistic. (view spoiler)

As a reader I'm content with magic as an element of technological activity, particularly when the laws of physics still apply to its practitioners as it does here: if one's magic powers something then that power needs to be accounted for somehow even if the mage is simply made tired by the practice or their talent isn't sufficient. (view spoiler)

This first foray of Wells' into writing for the young is a fine read: young persons, especially middle-schoolers and YA's new to Verne-esque realities, should enjoy themselves immensely; adult readers will find plenty of Wellsian adventure and enough fantastic world-building to satisfy, and Emilie is a delightful young protagonist. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series soon.
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Reading Progress

May 4, 2016 – Started Reading
May 4, 2016 – Shelved
May 5, 2016 – Finished Reading
May 12, 2016 – Shelved as: fantasy-sf
May 12, 2016 – Shelved as: female-lead
May 12, 2016 – Shelved as: steampunk
May 12, 2016 – Shelved as: strong-women
May 12, 2016 – Shelved as: young-adult

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by carol. (new)

carol. I had a hard time getting into this one and finally quit about Hollow World section because I was just forcing it. Usually I don't have to work so hard with Wells.


Athena I can totally see it: I think she was editing her usual flair, writing down a bit to the kid audience - thus pointing at Middle Schoolers too, a bit younger than Emilie. Hoping she can polish that up a bit that in the next Emilie book cuz a lot of young adults would be challenged by & enjoy her Raksura books, depending on the individual (because of sex scenes & because of the sheer terror of the Fell by the 3rd book). Heck I read Tolkien in 6th or 7th grade, and that's not so unusual!


message 3: by carol. (new)

carol. Hmm, good point. Maybe she's afraid to let her academic background in... but one of her strengths is world-building.


Athena Yes it is - it's a bit confusing, as though she doesn't trust readers ... or maybe she wrote it really quickly and didn't give it her all.

Thank you - that was a good call-out Carol, I just re-read the review and realize I should have put more in there about the lack of flow. It's not nearly as realistic as she could have made it.


message 5: by carol. (new)

carol. Yes, I think about what I love about her writing--and there is a lot to love--but I loved the well-imagined society and setting of City of Bones and the Victorian-supernatural of Necromancer. And the sheer creativity of the Raksura society and setting! To describe her style in a word I might use 'intricate' because they feel like quite like organic wholes with so much to appreciate.

I still have Emile, but am in no hurry to give it another go. I didn't even try to review it.


Athena I'm going to try the next Emilie before I give up (it's at my lib) just cuz I'm stubborn like that (witness reading 4 out of 5 Dante Valentine books ... eyeroll!)

I read City of Bones just before taking off & loved it, looking forward to picking thru it again when I'm home to write a review & hoping to get my claws on Necromancer and her other pubs as well!


message 7: by carol. (new)

carol. Those two have especially high re-readability.


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