Sunday, May 12, 2013

14: The Hollow Kingdom - Clare B. Dunkle

"Imagine as she stood by the bonfire tonight, she saw outlandish and otherworldly sights, and when I cam toward her to lift her on this this horse here, she knew - she just knew - that if she let me put her onto this horse, she'd be galloped away beyond the world we know into some strange, shadowy underworld." - Goblin King

"Why would I remember that? Do I guard Kings? I do not worry about the minor details of King's lives. I only remember what is important." - the snake that guards the King's Wife

This young adult book was handed to me by an AP student before winter break with the hopes that I would read it before my next semester began. Instead, I spent the break recovering from a kind-of-cracked-heart and did not read it which of course lead to this semester, also known as the semester-where-I-read-nothing-light-or-fun-ever. 

Fortunately, my last paper is written and I am one presentation away from being finished with grad school. Unfortunately, I have pink eye and need to take the next few days off of work so I am actually a little excited to read some things that are light and fun.

My first thought when starting the book is that it is very different from the literary masterpieces I've been reading. It is a Young Adult fantasy novel targeted towards kids in grades 5-9, and I don't think anyone is picking it up expecting to discover the next Marquez which is totally okay.

Plot has pretty typical motifs that we're seeing in a lot of YA work recently: orphaned children, supernatural creatures, surprising superpowers, weird-stalkery-love from a supernatural creature to a young woman where doesn't really have any choice or control over. What is super atypical is how fucking badass our orphaned young ladies are. I have been a little checked out of the YA scene for the past few years, and I hope this is a new trend. For the record, this book came out in 2003, five years before Katniss Everdeen ever grabbed a bow and arrow.

Our story takes place in the countryside during the Industrial Revolution in England. Kate and Emily have recently been orphaned after being raised by their father who had crazy ideas like young women should be educated in literature and science, and they are shipped off to distant relatives who are the closest thing to appropriate guardians. Very early in the text it becomes clear that there are magical races still alive (goblins, elves, dwarves) and one has decided that Kate must become his bride. 

I don't want to give too much away, as this is NOT the Scarlet Letter where we all know the plot and read it anyway, so I'm going to obliquely reference some of the very awesome things this book does without giving away too much about the plot. 

Kate is beautiful, of course, but more importantly she is FIERCE and SMART. She uses her limited physical capabilities (she is an undersized teenager after all) and her intelligence to scheme and plan and foil her enemies, and when she needs to, she uses weapons, and yes, she totally kills. Emma is our minor character whose virtues are in her SWEETNESS. Oh are you an ugly little baby goblin who is scared? Don't worry, Emma will coo at you and make it all better. She's also incredibly CURIOUS which is a useful plot tool because she asks questions that the reader is wondering and thus we get the backstory we need, but it's also just nice to see so many quality characteristics spread across two young women. 

Probably because I'm in a gender class right now, I'm paying a lot more attention to it, but the mythos this book presents about women, marriage, and pregnancy are an interesting and welcome balance of sweet/romantic/chivalrous and feminist (see the above snake who knows EVERYTHING about every king's wife and could care less about unimportant king's lives). Also, because there are different races who look quite different from humans, it has a great message about discrimination but it's woven into the story and doesn't feel didactic.

Overall, I'd be very very happy for more young people, particularly young women, to read this book. It satisfies what I want out of light reading but also upholds all the values that I want young women to have. 

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