Hollow City: I wanted to love it, but ended up only liking it

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHollow City by Ransom Riggs fantasy book reviewsHollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City picks up almost immediately after the events of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the first book in the MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN series. From the very beginning Hollow City is an action-packed adventure in all the places that the first book was a thoughtful, eerie mystery. I enjoyed the change of pace Ransom Riggs set in this sequel, though this new territory brought with it its own problems. (Please note: this review will contain spoilers throughout due to the mysterious nature of the first book. Some points I will be discussing were not known until most of the way through Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children but I have found them integral to talking about Hollow City.)

This review is going to be fairly critical of a few points, so I wanted to begin (in addition to ending) with my overall thoughts on the novel at a whole. Hollow City was a departure from its prequel in many positive ways. I found the pacing to be incredibly satisfying in that there was neither too much nor too little exploration of the world and likewise the action therein. The new characters we get to meet along the children’s journey were thoughtfully crafted and left me wanting to know more about them in the best possible way. But, for as much as I loved Hollow City, it did have multiple issues I couldn’t ignore.

One of my smallest complaints that still bears mentioning is the small inconsistencies I found throughout the novel. I may not have noticed at all if it only happened once, but at least twice it seems the scene ran away with the author and left me a little confused. In both of the cases I consciously noticed, some kind of action would happen and after we would find the protagonist someplace he ought not to have been at all. At first I thought perhaps I had missed a line or a key turn of phrase, but in rereading found the inconsistency still apparent.

As I mentioned above, the secondary characters we come across are almost always interesting folks that captured my attention immediately and left me hoping to see them again. Unfortunately, I found Miss Peregrine’s children to be somewhat less dynamic entities. The main character, Jacob Portman, (highlight here to view spoiler:) a peculiar child himself and protector of the group given his ability to actually see the lethal monsters that prey on peculiars [end spoiler], is travelling with many of Miss Peregrine’s children for the entirety of the novel. There are between seven and ten of them at any given point, and for me this led to some confusing conversations. With that many main characters, I felt that Riggs got lost in the various voices. I had a hard time differentiating the children, especially the boys, as it felt like when something was said by anyone other than Jacob or Emma (the leaders of the group) it could have come from any of the others. Where secondary characters felt fleshed out, many of the children we spend most of the book with feel flat by comparison.

Riggs presents the reader with an eerie, sometimes creepy world that explores history from the perspective of children trying to find their way through it. 1940s England is a place wrought with turmoil in the heat of WWII, and as such the peculiar children are faced with many hardships and atrocities brought about by the war. With this in mind, by the end of the novel I was questioning the intended audience. There were times when a horrifying occurrence or act would be explained in full, and others where the characters would strategically miss any sign of loss of life. Our young protagonists conveniently missed seeing any death during an air raid, and not once lost a member of their sizable crew after numerous near-death experiences. Yet there is a fairly horrifying scene regarding the removal of peculiar souls. This inconsistency grew more apparent as the novel progressed, to the point where I could not decide if this book was intended for children or the YA crowd.

Finally, I was torn on the pictures. The aesthetic of the book overall is just as intriguing as the first novel, and has some of the same flaws as well. Some of the time I found the old photographs did enhance the story and characters deeply by reaffirming the setting and giving a literal glimpse into what the children were experiencing. Other times, it felt like the author found a photo he liked and strove to find any way possible to include it, occasionally to the detriment of the story.

In the end, I really did enjoy Hollow City. There were great strides made in character development, particularly with certain members of Miss Peregrine’s children, and the secondary characters were always spellbinding. The pace was brisk without being rushed and the sense of world building while jumping through time was superb. In the end, if you enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children I think the second book is worth picking up with the hope that the third brings a fitting end to the tale of MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN.

Publication Date: January 14, 2014. September 3, 1940. Ten peculiar children flee an army of deadly monsters. And only one person can help them—but she’s trapped in the body of a bird. The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. There, they hope to find a cure for their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. And before Jacob can deliver the peculiar children to safety, he must make an important decision about his love for Emma Bloom. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

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SKYE WALKER, who has been on FanLit’s staff since September 2014 (after a brief time on staff as a YA reviewer in 2007-2008), is from Canada. Their HBA in Anthropology and Communications allowed them to write an Honours paper on podcasting as the modern oral tradition of storytelling: something they will talk about at any and all opportunities. Skye is a communications professional in the non-profit sector. These days their favourite authors include Ursula K Le Guin, Bo Bolander, and Chris Wooding. They can be found on social media @tskyewalker

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  1. Do you think the photographs are hampering him? I certainly thought so in the first book,even though they are interesting.

    • Skye Walker /

      I just can’t decide! I felt they were, in general, better in this one than in the first book. However there were still times when it felt like he just really wanted to use a particular picture, by any means necessary. Sometimes the pictures flowed well with the story, and sometimes they were jarring. I really can’t decide if I like them or not.

      I think they hamper him in that it seems incredibly hit-and-miss that a picture will help or hinder the actual story, and his trying to make the story fit around the pictures comes out clunky and gimmicky sometimes. But it’s only sometimes for me, and that might be the most frustrating part

      • It would be difficult if you were a writer whose original idea had been inspired by a collection of strange old photos, and you really liked one, *not* to try to fit it into the story. Maybe that’s what’s going on here to some extent.

  2. I think it’s interesting that you and Rachael had a lot of the same complaints (and compliments) about each book in the series.

    Do you think you’ll read the third book when it’s out, Skye?

    • Skye Walker /

      I’m sure I’ll read it, I need some closure! But I’m thinking I’ll get it in paperback rather than springing for the hardcover release

  3. Justin Blazier /

    He has a short documentary on how he gets some of the pictures and inspirations for his books. I haven’t read them yet, but I found the documentary interesting. I believe it’s titles “A Most Peculiar Trip: Searching for Miss Peregrine”

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