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.