What’s extremely difficult when launching any new series is establishing a credible ‘Wow’ factor. Right out of the gate, readers have to be captivated by the tale, by the characters, by the premise, and by the prose equally. If the formula isn’t quite in balance, never fear: they’ll likely hang around for the long haul (or, at least, the first installment) so long as there are hints of some truly great things to come. Otherwise, the writer runs the risk of blending in too quickly with everyone else already in the room (meaning the other series books available on any shelf in any bookstore around the world).
To her credit, Martha Wells does wonders in breaking ground with EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD. If the first novel is any indication, then she’s starting out on the right foot in building a world that may continue to captivate readers in the years ahead.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Emilie has run away from home. Not home, per se, but what was supposed to serve as a reasonable facsimile. Feeling unloved or (more appropriately) estranged from his distant family, she seeks out an adventure aboard the steamship Merry Bell. But – as may be her lot in life – she ends up aboard the wrong craft, a dazzling creation that charts its course on the Ether (or Aether) toward the Hollow World beneath Earth’s surface. If she’s not careful, she’ll be quick to learn that she’s perchance bitten off far more than any young lass can chew!
Myself, I grew up on a steady diet of Encyclopedia Brown and some occasional brushes with science fiction and/or fantasy. While there are elements of HOLLOW WORLD that perhaps don’t quite fit this old dog’s regular diet these days, I’m still schooled enough in the craft of fiction to recognize a great beginning when I see one. What Ms. Wells has accomplished here is no small feat: she’s created a world – not all that dissimilar to those created in the pulps of old by Edgar Rice Burroughs or even Robert E. Howard – that’s a bit of a hybrid, embracing elements of historical fiction, fantasy, and soft sci-fi. While it feels familiar, there’s a great flavor to it in that the lead, Emilie, and her “sponsor” of sorts – Lady Marlende – are both of the gentler gender, though readers will discover that they’re just as apt to take the adventurous plunge as the men in this tale!
There’s this great little bubble of a universe – an existence inside our own planet – and Emilie (with Ms. Well’s direction) is hungry to explore this strange new world if, for no other reason, to come to grips with what her life was truly missing back home: and that is the occasional adventure-of-a-lifetime. There’s some wonderful little technology – these ships that use the ether to navigate – that smacks of a steampunk(ish) creation. And there are more noble characters than Shakespeare could shake a stick at.
HOLLOW WORLD is a delight. Honestly, there were a few parts I found a bit slow (I’ve never been a huge fan of elaborate exposition, but, given the subject matter here, it kinda/sorta goes with the territory). Still, were I a young boy or girl, I’d probably find much of this a real hoot. It may not be as likeable or memorable as any HARRY POTTER book, but, as I said, this appears to only be a first chapter in the life of a young girl. Given time, I’m sure young Emilie will show us a world worth further exploration.
Lastly, there’s no immediate promise that Emilie will return announced in this volume, but I’ve no doubt Martha Wells will want to take this young lady on another adventure. In fact, the book’s closing practically promises that there’s more intrigue to come!
EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD is written by Martha Wells. The softcover edition is published by Strange Chemistry. For those who need it spelled out perfectly, this is classified as a YA (Young Adult) novel. It bears the cover price of $9.99, a bargain if you can get it.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Strange Chemistry (an Angry Robot imprint) provided me with an advance proof copy of EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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