Twins Matt and Emily Calder have imaginations so powerful that they can make art come to life. Their powers are sought by villains intent on accessing the terrors of Hollow Earth – a place where all the devils, demons and monsters ever imagined lie trapped for eternity. If Hollow Earth is breached, the world will be plunged into chaos. If Hollow Earth is breached …
… the twins are good as dead.
When I first was approached about reviewing Hollow Earth and its successor, Bone Quill, what first struck me was the name John Barrowman. Someone I only knew from British television as a musical star and the star of Torchwood, I was surprised to find he was also a writer. The book is co-written with his sister – which wow, I think if I tried that with my siblings we’d have probably done our heads in after two chapters, so kudos for that – and is in fact more middle grade than YA, but even if I don’t read and review them as often I really enjoy well-written children’s books, so here we are. And I’m glad to be here because I spend an entirely enjoyable afternoon in the company of Matt and Em and the rest of the cast immersed in an adventure that feels like an modernised version of what I hazily remember of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books – it’s been a few decades since I read her work – and has an exciting supernatural component.
Hollow Earth‘s premise of Animare, gifted people that can bring their drawings to life, and Guardians, the people who need to protect the Animare from the world and the world from the Animare, was intriguing and I really liked how the authors pulled this out into history, by having some of the most famous painters in history be Animare. Even if they don’t animate their work, the magical energy they put into painting gives their work that magical sparkle that sets it apart from regular artists. The idea that all the monsters ever created by the Animare are gathered together and imprisoned in the Hollow Earth is quite scary; it’s like having a giant closet filled with the monsters-under-your-bed you always thought weren’t real. While the Animare powers are quickly revealed and explained to the reader, the exact powers of the Guardians are still rather, elusive, something which I like, since it still leaves some of the magic to be discovered in the following books. The island setting added to the atmosphere, as it created an easily overseen field of action and even if access to the island was by scheduled ferry and people move off and on the island quite easily, it still made it seem as if there were clear borders between the world of the island and the rest of the world.
Our protagonists Em and Matt are joined by Zach, a teenager already living at the Abbey, their grandfather’s estate. I loved this little gang of three. They each have their own skills, abilities and character traits, but they for a solid whole. Matt’s rebelliousness rather left Hollow Earth open to falling into the trap novels with young protagonists often get stuck in, namely that of not telling an adult what you are doing, but going blithely off to deal with a problem on your own. This just frustrates me enormously, but then again, that might be my parent brain thinking. He’s also quite a strong animare and a little reckless with it. Em on the other hand is developing Guardian powers early. This also left me a bit conflicted, because while they are some very cool skills, mostly telepathy and empathy, I did find it a little typical that the girl got the abilities connected to emotions early and not the boy, but otherwise I like that they each have their thing. Zach is also going to be a Guardian and is able to communicate telepathically with Em. Zach is also deaf from birth. I love how this was worked into the narrative; it’s part of who he is, but any potential communication problems are naturally solved by the telepathy and technology. Also his skills, both those connected to his loss of hearing and his computer skills are actually used to further the, plot which was cool. One thing I really loved about this story was the bond between the kids and their parents. Em, Matt, and Sandie are a cohesive family unit and she’s very much in the picture, even if the kids manage to sneak off while she’s working. Similarly, Zach’s father clearly loves him beyond anything and it’s very much returned by Zach. Even if both families aren’t traditional family units, they show that this doesn’t mean a family has to be dysfunctional.
I found the adults in the novel quite interesting. They definitely weren’t just there to provide transportation, money or the semblance of parental units; they were integral to the story and the plot. The more political aspects of the story, embodied in the politicking of the different factions, the Council of Guardians, the Society of the Hollow Earth, and those at the Abbey were intriguing and left me wondering about what had gone before to create these societies. The way the kids picked up on the adults’ interactions and the tensions between some of them was also well done, as I’m of the school of thought that kids pick up a lot of stuff unconsciously and are often far more aware of what is going on than we give them credit for. Our intrepid trio definitely pick up on the interplay between Sandie and Mara, Sandie and Vaughn, and Simon and Mara, and aren’t afraid to comment on it, if only amongst themselves. I love the bond they have with Grandpa and the way that their getting to know him leads to one of the clues to their solving the problem.
Hollow Earth is an exciting adventure story, mixed with some quite interesting magic, mystery, and mythology. The latter of which is shown to the reader in flashbacks to the Middle Ages and to the young animare scribe Solon. His story and the resolution of his story are crucial to the ending of this book’s main crisis, though at one point all I could think was OMG their patronus is a peryton! And while I picked some of the twists up quite far in advance, this might also have been due to the fact I’m not a middle-grader. Overall Hollow Earth was quite enjoyable and I’m looking forward to starting its sequel Bone Quill. Look for a review of that next week.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.