Strange Chemistry Double – Emilie & The Hollow World and The Holders [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews two of Strange Chemistry’s latest young adult fantasy titles.
On Emilie & The Hollow World: “This is an action-adventure novel that is very reminiscent of Jules Verne’s classic, A Journey To The Center of The Earth. Hence, my conclusion is that the novel is a work of genius.“
On The Holders: “An Irish fantasy that reads like an X-men novelisation. Which means of course that this was pretty damn good, no mistake.”
Like Evie Manieri’s debut Blood’s Pride, both these novels also happen to be on my “51 Most Anticipated Releases of 2013“, because their blurbs sound intriguing, and because, in the case of Emilie & The Hollow World, I’ve wanted to read something from Martha Wells for quite a while now. I got the chance, and I’m more than impressed, as I hope my blurb above makes clear.
Emilie & The Hollow World is one of the most exciting novels I’ve read in a good while. It is extremely fast paced, and the characters are a sheer delight to read about. It is not often that a novel has me giving it high praise, and Martha Wells’ upcoming novel is one of those rare few novels. At its heart, the novel is an adventure to an unexplored world, with lots of magic and a dash of Victorian steampunk thrown in for good measure.
Martha Wells begins the novel right in the middle of the action as we meet Emilie along the docks, hoping to stowaway on a ship headed to the Silk Harbour, where a cousin resides and with whom she expects to live a better life than she has had under the tyrannical grip of her Uncle Yeric. It is kind of how things might have happened had Harry Potter left the Dursleys behind and gone on to his adventures without any ties to them. From there on, we are treated to one rapid-action scene after another as she finally manages to stow away on a ship, but not one headed to the Silk Harbour. This one is headed to the Hollow World, a world hidden from the normal world (the repetition there is unfortunate on my part), and this is when the narrative kicks into Journey To The Center of The Earth mode. New sights, new sounds, new people, new environment; quite simply put, it is a pleasure to read as things unfold, mysteries are revealed, and we are treated to some non-stop action-adventure in a world beyond Emilie’s own, but yet a part of it.
Emilie & The Hollow World is a novel that has no cons to it, everything is in its favour, beyond the fact that sometimes Emilie comes off as someone much older than she is meant to be, but that is a very small point that I do not hold against the novel.
To start off, the characters are all excellent. We have Emilie herself, the protagonist. Accompanying her are Ms. Marlende, Lord Engal, Kenar, Dr. Barshion and several others. They are all part of an expedition headed into the Hollow World to save the lives of Dr. Marlende, the father of Ms. Marlende, and his crew members who encounted unexpected troubles within the other world. Emilie happens to be an unscheduled passenger on the trip, and her age and status both mark her out from the rest of the cast. What I really loved about the characters was that they were all realistic, believable, and they behaved as I would expect them to behave. There were no stupid moments in the book, no moments of inexplicable irrationality. The book is told from a third person point of view, and I think that this fit the nature of each of the characters. Emilie is always the main viewpoint character regardless, and so we see things coloured from her perspective, which makes for some rather interesting commentary throughout the novel.
The world-building is quite good. Given the other-worldly nature of the Hollow World, I wanted there to be unexpected dangers for the crew of the relief ship, for them to meet strange and new people, a new culture that none of them had any experience with. And that is what I got out of the novel! Kenar in particular made for a really great character, being the crew’s guide into the Hollow World since he is a native, one of the Cirathi (a culture of explorers). With both him and Emilie, we see a lot more of the Hollow World than would have been possible otherwise I think, and I enjoyed every moment of it.
As I’ve said, the pacing is non-stop and there is constant action going on in the novel, and lots of mysteries converging at the same time that make Emilie & The Hollow World a really great read.
Also, as a final point, another thing to love about the novel is that the magic system never requires a length of explanation. Most of the characters take it as an accepted fact, and the reader is never bogged down with long info-dumps on how it holds the world(s) together. It is also not the typical wizardly/witchy magic, but something more different, something that is a mix of both pure magic and science, which is where the steampunk elements come in to add more depth and diversity to the world.
In short, this is an excellent novel, a sure-fire hit, and I recommend it quite highly.
Unlike Martha Wells’ Emilie & The Hollow World, Julianna Scott’s The Holders is a debut effort, and quite a stellar one at that. From the very start, it reminds me a lot of Marvel’s X-men comics, and the fantastic world of mutants created within the pages of those comics and the movies and various television shows that have followed over the years.
The central premise of the novel is as such: 17-year old Becca’s young brother Ryland has the ability to skim-read people’s thoughts and it has driven him quite crazy in his short life. Because of his freaky ability and the tantrums that follow, he has no social life, and is very much alone, with only his elder sister and his mother to take care of him. One day, a pair of Irish men arrive at their home and tell the family that they represent St. Brigid’s in Ireland, a school for individuals who are as Ryland is, and where he can get the true help and care that he deserves. It turns out that St. Brigid’s is a school for the gifted, same as Charles Xavier’s school for mutants in the pages of X-men. And the teachers reflect their students. Being an urban fantasy, the powers are not attributed to mutations, but powers handed down through near-ancient bloodlines in Irish magical mythology. For me, it was one of the defining moments in the novel.
The characters in the novel are just as much an interesting bunch as those in Martha Wells’ Emilie & The Hollow World. Becca makes for an excellent sympathetic protagonist, and through her (in the first person), we see a lot of the workings behind St. Brigid’s and the world that Julianna Scott has created. And I see the inspiration behind The Holders as limited to not just X-Men, but also the TV series Heroes. There are elements of both in the novel and with this great mix of IPs and Irish fantasy, Julianna Scott has shown that debut authors can write novels that are as good as, if not better than, novels written by seasoned and experienced authors.
Becca, her brother Ryland, her love interest Alex, and all the instructors at St. Brigid’s make for a really delightful cast of characters, each of who brings something different to the narrative. Each character has a vitality of their own to offer to the narrative, and while we don’t see much of Ryland, that is just fine since this is first and foremost Becca’s story. She is a forceful young adult who is ready to take charge of her life, and that of her brother and mother at a moment’s notice. She cares about the people close to her and she is very much a hero in her own right. I do have to say that Becca has become one of my favourite characters in urban fantasy, and a lot of that has to do with how intelligently and realistically she is written.
Her romance with Alex lacks any cliches and is a very natural occurrence over the course of the novel. There is no suddenness to it, no hand-waving at all. The two of them have to go through several trials, and what results is something that is better for the both of them. I’m not all that a fan of romance elements in my books (I’m actually largely indifferent to it), but this is one instance in which I was hooked onto the romance, and wanted to read more of it.
There is a lot of complexity to the world that Julianna Scott has created, and I loved every bit of it. Whether it is the history of the Holders, the magic-users of the world, or seeing them practice/use their skills, was a rather thrilling experience. The author never gives the game away too soon, and she has played all her cards fairly tightly in her hand. The revelations, as they happen, are told with an eye to the atmosphere that needs to be created to give the reader the best experience, and that is what I wanted from a novel like this.
The pacing of the novel has its ups and downs, and sometimes the narrative gets a little too slow, but overall, I did not have any issues with it. Julianna Scott takes her time with the world-building and the narrative, and she does not seem to have sacrificed much of anything in the novel. She appears to know what she wants out of it, and she delivers on the promise of the blurb. I wanted to be entertained by the novel, and to see a culture and area of fantasy that I have next to no experience with. That is what I got, and I’m pretty happy with how it all went down.
Again, in short, The Holders by Julianna Scott is another strong title from Strange Chemistry, and definitely not one you should miss out on reading.