While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.
Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.
With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.
In the three years I’ve been blogging, I’ve seen several enthusiastic reviews for Martha Wells’ adult books. Consequently, Wells has been on my radar as an author to check out at some point. Of course, my list of authors-to-check-out is about a mile long, which means that I hadn’t yet gotten round to reading her Books of the Raksura series, which looked quite interesting. When Strange Chemistry announced they’d signed her in a two-book deal for a YA series, I decided that here was my chance to finally sample Wells’ writing. Emilie and the Hollow World was a treat and was very entertaining.
The star of the novel is of course Emilie. A sixteen-year-old who’s run away from an unhappy home life to find a hopefully brighter future as a teacher, but who ends up going on the adventure of a lifetime. What I enjoyed about Emilie is that she’s self-assured, but not one of those girls that are magically skilled in anything. She does things and only later considers that if she’s thought about it beforehand she might have been too scared to do it. She’s not afraid to take the initiative and to let herself be heard. She has some excellent role models in Miss Marlende and the Cirathi woman Rani, who are both emancipated, strong women. I loved both of them, as at least Miss Marlende seems unconventional for her social circles, but neither of them feels out of step with the time setting of the book.
The male characters in the book run the gamut from those who are scandalised by Miss Marlende’s independence, to those for whom it’s unremarkable, those who admire her for it. My favourite was Kenar, the Cirathi who has come to the surface world to get help for Dr Marlende. His obvious wish to go home warred with his sense of adventure and this coupled with his kind nature made him irresistible; he made for an outsider’s point of view and a safe haven for Emilie. It’s also among the male characters that the differences in class in Emilie’s world come to the fore most clearly. We have two upper class Lords vying for the distinction of having the Hollow World, a middle class in the form of the captain and the wizard, and the working class in the form of the various boatmen. While not a heavily belaboured point, it’s the lower class characters that display the most sense and fellow feeling, while the Lords are quite ruthless – and in the case of Lord Ivers downright evil – in their pursuit of fame and fortune.
This class system is but a small part of the creation of the Hollow World. Emilie’s universe had a Victorian and steampunk feel to it, though perhaps not so much steampunk, as a Jules Verne-ish sensibility. This impression is enforced by the fabulous cover by amazing15. Beyond creating this Verne-like world, Wells creates a completely unique world in her Hollow World, the world at the core of the planet. Filled with various different species, which are all not quite human, but a blend of myth and monster, and ancient cities which are mysteriously abandoned, it’s a colourful environment. I found the merpeople’s society fascinating with their amphibian lifestyle and the internal struggles in the kingdom of the Sealands.
The political machinations behind the disappearance of Dr Marlende and the way the mystery is resolved, were very cool, but it felt like some events and bad guys were somewhat telegraphed. However, this was the only thing that really bothered me about the book. Otherwise Emilie and the Hollow World was a wonderful tale that is also quite suitable for the younger end of the YA scale. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the second book, Emilie and the Sky World. It must be noted, however, that this book stands solidly on its own and has quite a satisfying ending. If you’re looking for a fun YA adventure with a lovely, strong female protagonist, Emilie and the Hollow World is the book for you.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.