Officially reviewed in “Shelf Awareness for Readers:” Jan. 21, 2014. Informally discussed below:
“I had come to the island to solve my grandfather’s mystery, and in doing so I had discovered my own.”
After two years of waiting, Ransom Riggs’ Hollow City is finally out, picking up exactly where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left off. Miss P is one of my favorite YA novels, and it remains a unique offering among the shelves of dystopia and romance that comprise the bulk of teen fiction today. Perhaps I am biased because I have a fondness for vintage photographs and curiosities, for whimsy and its macabre decay. In both Miss P and Hollow City, creepy old photos reminiscent of sideshow cabinet cards illustrate an even creepier narrative, complete with monsters, time travel, and children with supernatural (“peculiar”) abilities. Riggs is himself a photo collector and urban explorer, as he explains in this YouTube clip, and both interests greatly influence his work–not only in terms of aesthetic, but in that they seek out fragments of history, saturated with untold stories. Through such relics he sets the stage for the continuation of Jacob’s saga with Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.
Hollow City is a journey book that reads like an old film reel, where different stories are spliced together, jarring the characters as they cross from one scene into the next. Where Miss P introduces the peculiar universe and much of its history, Hollow City traverses it, moving through time loops and evading nightmarish hollowgasts and wights in order to save Miss Peregrine, who is stuck in the form of a bird. Along the way Jacob learns more about his grandfather and the gift they share (the ability to see hollows), and the other children discover truths about their world hidden within an old book of peculiar fairytales. The old photos used in the novel add to its haunting atmosphere, and people the children encounter on their travels, such as Gypsies and carnival folk, give it a grounded mystique that complements their own unusual abilities.
Rather than losing his characters in the wilderness for the bulk of their flight, as many authors would, Riggs chooses to lead them through shifting urban landscapes, where enemies hide in plain sight. Much of the novel takes place in the war-torn streets of 1940s London, causing the children to face threats of bombs and soldiers in addition to their peculiar pursuers. Adding to the story’s tension is the fact that Jacob and the other peculiars don’t know where they need to go to find help. In their haste to flee their home, they have little more than the clothes on their backs; they have no way of knowing exactly where other loop entrances are located or if any loops exist unraided–the safety these places no longer assured.
Riggs masterfully builds suspense while revealing new information about the peculiars’ world, making it at once sinister and captivating. A dark, surprising twist at the novel’s end will keep readers on the edge of their seats and leaves the story poised for a third installment. Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Daniel Kraus, Hollow City blends fantasy and horror into a truly unique world that will engross readers and leave them eager for more.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the kind people at Quirk Books, who sent me a copy of the Miss Peregrine graphic novel. It is beautifully done. Cassandra Jean’s pen and ink artwork captures the feel of Riggs’ novel, selectively employing color to mark shifts in the narrative and mood. The photos that drew me to the novel in the first place are still used, creating a collage effect appropriate to the disparate nature of the book’s composition: fragments pieced together to form a stunning whole. Personally, I prefer traditional books to graphic novels, but any Miss Peregrine fan would be thrilled to get their hands this illustrated rendition.