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.
You can read an excerpt here.
An old-fashion type adventure yarn (think Leviathan, or Tintin, but more Jules Verne-y), Emilie and the Hollow World makes for a fun ride – but I did find myself wishing, in the end, that the story had been a bit more personal.
Now to be fair, that is the Achilles heel of adventure stories – too much being sacrificed in the name of non-stop action (particularly on the character side). Take the Tintin movie, for example (though admittedly as someone not familiar with the cartoon, I could only take it at face value): the characters never once stopped running, always chasing or being chased, and yet I was bored silly by it all because I just didn’t care what happened to them one way or the other. There simply wasn’t enough there – to the characters or their reasons why – to give me a reason to. Now it’s not like I require all that much – heck, the movie Taken worked for me, because I could easily vest in a parent setting out to rescue their kid – but it all boils down to this: I enjoy action stories, very much so, but I want them to have some level of personality, some character drive. And as for this book, well, it wasn’t a personality-free zone, but it didn’t feel all that personal either.
Because here’s the thing: Emilie is very easy to root for, being a sensible, plucky young lady, but she also is just the person standing in the right place at the right time, and that’s it. Again and again, circumstances conspire to make Emilie Johnny-on-the-spot, such that she alone can perform the appropriate derring-do to save the day – but it just never felt like it HAD to be Emilie. The mechanics of it all were so overpowering that frankly it seemed like anyone standing in Emilie’s place could have done the same thing – because it was never ABOUT her, never something made possibly by dint of her personality or abilities, it just happened TO her. And as a result, it leeched some of the emotion, some of the character, out of this story – which left it all just a bit too impersonal.
And yet, that being said, there still is something undeniably fun about watching a young lady (in a decidedly chauvinistic age) save the day over and over. And likewise, while the action machinations definitely overpowered the characters, it also was all just FUN. The set pieces, the escapes, the adventures, the strange creatures and bizarre landscapes – it was all marvelously fascinating and inventive, and I enjoyed the heck out of being a tourist in Well’s peculiar world. And as for the characters themselves, while they did stay fairly broad, they were all charming nonetheless – and I look forward to seeing more of them in the the next book.
So in the end, yes, you will have to forgive the rather coincidental nature of Emilie’s adventure, but it does still make for a pell-mell, highly entertaining read, with aether and gear-works galore. And I will definitely be back for more Martha Wells – I just hope the next time around it’s all a bit more personal.
Byrt Grade: A-
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
The story reminds me strongly of the more memorable moments of Jacques Tardi’s The Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec…
My other…issue with Emilie and the Hollow World was that for at least the first half of the book, it was really just The Hollow World. Emilie was just this window through which we were seeing this adventure take place, but she wasn’t really a part of it herself. She followed people around, she said some things, but the story would have essentially remained unchanged had she not been there. BUT (yes, there is a but), Emilie did grow.
…a fast-paced adventure full of rolicking fun and fantastical characters.