Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Title: The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, #1)

Author: Clare B. Dunkle

Rating: 4 Stars

If you had asked me just last year, I would have told you I didn't have a favorite fairy tale. I grew up hating "Snow White" and while I adored nearly every "Cinderella" movie re-telling I'd seen, the original story was not among my favorites at all. As a child, I never actually saw "Beauty and the Beast" or read the book, until one fated French class when we saw an old black-and-white version of it in French. Granted, I didn't understand everything that was said as it was only my second year of French, but I fell in love with the atmosphere and the very idea of the tale: of finding beauty where other people could not.

Needless to say, what makes The Hollow Kingdom such a successful re-telling of "Beauty and the Beast" is its ability to perfectly capture that very same atmosphere I so fell in love with years ago. For me, the joy of a re-told story lies not in its similarities to the original, but rather in its differences. As such, The Hollow Kingdom pleasantly surprised me by being a tale, not of a love that could transform a hideous beast into a beautiful prince, but rather one of a love that could look beyond a monstrous exterior to the beauty that lay within.

When The Hollow Kingdom begins, it reads much like a Gothic mystery. Hallow Hill, the countryside residence where Kate and her younger sister, Emily, have recently moved to is a place with a dangerous past, one where young girls vanish, never to be seen again. One night, when Kate and Emily lose their way back home, they come upon an encampment of gypsies who help lead them home. Yet, these nighttime travelers are no gypsies, but goblins, who have lived under Hallow Hill for centuries. And now, it is time for their powerful king, Marak, to marry. Very quickly, Marak decides on headstrong and stubborn Kate to become his bride, but exacting her acceptance to his proposal is far harder than he imagines.

From the moment you read the first page of The Hollow Kingdom, it is virtually impossible to set the book down. Everything about it, from its dark atmosphere to its witty banter, will keep you flipping the pages frantically. Kate is the type of heroine we all love - strong, intelligent, and quick to avoid traps that most protagonists would have fallen for due to naivete. Not only does she fight fiercely against Marak's advances, but she even turns the tables on him during more than one occasion. Emily, her younger sister, is no less compelling, charming us with her inquisitive nature and deep attachment for her older sister.

It is Marak who comes across as murky, indefinite, and hard to figure out. Although Marak desperately needs Kate to become his bride - and is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to take her underground with him - it becomes obvious that he grudgingly respects Kate. As he patiently deals with the curious nature of Emily, answering her questions about his magical world, it becomes evident that whatever Marak's plans are, hurting Kate isn't one of them. Furthermore, despite his sarcastic and rather rude nature, he cares deeply for his subjects and something about him ceases to be annoying and begins to become endearing. We know that Marak is supposed to be the villain of this tale, but gradually, it becomes impossible for our hearts not to thaw towards him.

Moreover, Marak sees Kate for who she really is, not simply a beautiful girl who can continue his lineage and not as a weak-willed lady who babbles about nonsensical creatures either. As such, he respects and even comes to love the very qualities that make her such a burden to her guardians. Although both Kate and Marak are fiercely stubborn - a trait which seems to cause them both nothing but irritation during their first few meetings - it is this same quality that later binds them close to one another. All in all, the love story in this novel is flawlessly executed, all side-by-side with descriptive prose and rich world-building.

Nevertheless, while The Hollow Kingdom had me completely besotted with it, I couldn't help but be rather disappointed by the end. In retrospect, it isn't a huge qualm at all, but one of the ending plot threads, built to make Kate realize the extent of her affection for Marak, was not one I particularly enjoyed. I felt as though the same idea could have been built in a much more poignant manner and this particular scene seemed to be thrown in to rush the inevitable ending for these two characters. Additionally, the writing leads you to believe that kisses lead to babies, probably because it is written for a MG audience. While I don't so much mind the latter issue, I was expecting more of a slow-burn romance till the end rather than a sudden twist into adventure.

Yet, let me re-assure you, The Hollow Kingdom is amazing. A re-imagined tale of "Beauty and the Beast" where the beast never turns into a handsome prince is a rare and wonderful thing to come by, so don't let this one slip by your hands. Even if you can't find yourself falling for an ugly goblin, Dunkle will ensure that you do and, believe me, you won't want to leave this underground world, even for just a glimpse of the stars.


  1. I love that this story is so gripping - that's the only retelling I can actually finish. The only Beauty and the Beast retelling I've read is Fielight by Kristin Callihan and it was great but not much was taken from the original, just the gorgeous-woman-horrible-man archetype.
    Like you, I have a strong dislike for fairy tales so the way I see it, why bother with retellings when I can't even stand the originals. But this sounds interesting enough all on its own. I might have to reconsider. :)

  2. I don't search out many re-tellings but this one definitely has me wanting to read it. I like that it doesn't focus on changing the beast into something beautiful, let's face it, Disney is sending all sorts of wrong messages (even though I love Disney movies).

    I'll add this to my to-read list!

  3. Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairytale—every retelling and adaptation only serves to reaffirm that for me. As you say, the atmosphere itself is one of the best parts, and I'm glad to hear Dunkle managed to continue that in this book. I've read two of her other novels, and I've been impressed with her prose, so I know I'm set up for good things there. I really need to look into this now.

    Incidentally, you might want to look into The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. It's a volume of short stories, all retellings of fairytales, and two of the stories are adaptations of Beauty and the Beast. Carter's prose is lush and elegant, and she did a fantastic job in creating a gothic atmosphere in a short piece of text.

  4. I love the story of Beauty and the Beast and really enjoyed Robin McKinnley's re-telling. This re-telling sounds AMAZING, Keertana! Lovely review as always. :)

  5. Ooh, Noelle really liked this one too. Have you seen the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast? I'm such a sucker for fairy tales, especially of the Disney variety, and I even watched the Broadway show. I have a feeling this is a book I'll really enjoy. Great review, Keertana.


  6. Beauty and Beast is my all time favourite fairytale/Disney film etc and I simply adore it beyond belief.

    I have to say you have entirely sold me on wanting to read this one and despite your qualms about the ending and romance, I'll be looking forward to getting my hands on it.

    Goblins certainly sounds like a new, refreshing take. Fantastic review! :)

  7. Oh another hot goblin? Where can I sign up? The Hollow Kingdom doesn't typically sound like my sort of read, but I think from this review you've completely won me over Keertana! The pacing and characters sound wonderful! I will definitely be on the lookout for this book! :)

  8. Oh, I am so glad you read this an enjoyed it, K! I know that Heidi liked it too and since I actually own a copy this makes me feel much better about starting it. Me and fairy tale retellings have a love/ hate relationship. I have read some great ones and I have read some real stinkers. It sounds like The Hollow Kingdom will be one that I enjoy:)

  9. I have never heard of this one, but I love retellings. Especially Beauty and the Beast. I perked up when you said "gothic mystery," wrote that the book is compelling and talked about a lovable heroine. I especially love when we meet characters that we cannot imagine falling for, but over time the author changes our minds so completely that we are totally besotted by the end. I will definitely add this one to my TBR. Thanks for sharing!

  10. You had me completely sold at "successful retelling of Beauty and the Beast" Keertana! That is my very favorite fairytale and I never get tired of retellings. Bring them on. And I agree completely, part of the fun of a retelling is seeing how the author changes the original, and what subtle nuances they bring to a familiar table. So excited to read this!

  11. welp I LOVE fairytales so hearing that you, as a non-fairytale person, enjoyed this so much makes me inclined to check it out! it sounds like a fantastic story even if the end disappointed you. great review!

  12. Ever since Heidi reviewed this one a few months ago, I knew that it was something I had to read. It's one of the few "Beauty and the Beast" retellings that has somehow passed me by, apparently. As I've said many times, I'm not really a fan of MG, but I am willing to make exceptions for good books, and of course a retelling like "Beauty and the Beast." I'm sure my review will be super critical of how The Hollow Kingdom fares as a retelling, so it's great to read positive reviews like this and see what elements outside of the general B&B storyline work for readers. Lovely review - I'm glad you found so much to enjoy within this story Keertana!

  13. This one does sound amazing! I haven't read any Beauty and the Beast retellings but the Gothic mystery feel in the beginning totally sounds like my thing. I don't remember ever hearing about this one before.

  14. I'm so, so happy that you enjoyed this one so much, even if you weren't completely taken by the ending. I personally loved Charm, and that it became really Kate's story rather than completely about her romance. Still, I DO love the romance in this one. I love that there isn't the emotional manipulation in this version as there is in the original tale, and that respect is such a foundation for love. Lol, kisses lead to babies...


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