The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare B. Dunkle

the-hollow-kingdom-by-clare-b-dunkle coverGenre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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In the The Hollow Kingdom, Kate and Emily Winslow, sisters, arrive at Hallow Hill Estate and into the care of a distant cousin after the death of their father. Watched over by two spinster great-aunts, they at first find comfort and adventure in the surrounding countryside, despite the obvious dislike of their ward, the corpulent Hugh Roberts. Roberts and his family have lived on the estate for several generations, and he views the girls’ return as a threat.

But the apparently peaceful countryside hides hidden dangers. Hallow Hill has an unsavory history as far as the fate of young women. Seems they have disappeared with alarming frequency over the centuries. There are rumors of strange creatures that live in the hill; that it truly is hollow. The housekeeper tells a legend of goblins lurking in the night. Not long after she arrives, Kate begins having disturbing nightmares. She bears an uncanny resemblance to a her great-grandmother, rendered on a painting in the estate house. One late evening, she and her sister are out past dark and run unto an odd assortment of folk. And that’s when the true adventure begins.

The Hollow Kingdom is a young adult fantasy. Overall, I found it somewhat simple and the plot to be not quite developed enough to satisfy me. I thought the first half of the book much better as far as setting and character than the second. It doesn’t give too much away to say they the girls end up having an adventure in the Hollow Kingdom, but once they leave the real world, it’s as though Dunkle wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. The estate and countryside and related characters (the aunts and Hugh Roberts) are described and established very well–it seemed quite ‘real’ and is a fine example of show, don’t tell.

Yet once the girls arrive in the Hollow Kingdom, there’s a noticeable shift. The characters and setting become less distinct, losing some of the admirable crispness Dunkle had established. I was abruptly aware that I was reading a story again, instead of living it, as I had been before. Maybe the shift was intentional to reflect the nature of the Hollow Kingdom. If it was, Dunkle should have left well enough alone and continued with the same attention to detail she had started with.

Despite my quibbles with the second half of the book, I enjoyed The Hollow Kingdom. Toward the end, despite a somewhat unbelievable occurrence that really wasn’t too well explained and that seemed to arrive out of the blue, the writing picked up, and I once again found myself eagerly turning the pages to see what would happen.

The Hollow Kingdom is an admirable effort and successful as a whole. The stumbles that tripped me and the sagging middle are probably less likely to be noticed by the target audience. This book is sure to be a definite hit with young adult fantasy fans, especially girls. Readers in search of a more mature, seasoned, and complex tale might find it a bit light.

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