Review: “Emilie and the Hollow World” by Martha Wells


13665428Title: “Emilie and the Hollow World”

Author: Martha Wells

Genre: MG/YA, Steampunk, Alternate History/Universe, Adventure, Retellings?

Publication Date: April 2, 2013 (Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot – North America)

Source: NetGalley Review Copy

Summary: 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.

☆: 4/5 stars – not a bad YA debut from Wells! Can’t wait for book 2!

Review: Okay, so this one is a bit hard to really talk about, guys. As much as I loved the idea and the creativity and the re-telling of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, there was one kinda big issue I had with this book, and one I’ve found that’s pretty consistent with adult authors making their YA debuts (for the most part). However, most of it was mermaids and rainbows, so I really enjoyed “Emilie and the Hollow World”, and I can’t wait for book 2, due out next year. If you’re looking for something that’s both a retelling and very original, give “Emilie” a try.

So, said problem? This is supposed to be YA, but it reads like MG. Our protagonist is 16, but sounds like she’s more around 14? See a pattern? I think this is because Wells was kind of talking down to her audience, making things a little oversimplified in an otherwise wonderfully complex story she’s created. I’m not sure whether this was conscious or not on Wells’ part, but if your protag is 16, please make her sound 16, even in an alternate-history late-Victorian/early-Edwardian type almost period book set in a fantastic world. It was incredibly frustrating, as the rest of the book was really magical, and Jules Verne would have been pretty impressed at this retelling of his classic “Journey to the Center of the Earth” tale. It brought down my enjoyment of the book quite a bit. But really, authors, remember – if your audience is YA, they’re teens and above, and talking down to them won’t really help things. Just thought I’d give a reminder.

That aside, this is a pretty short, sweet treat of a book – not a standalone (from what I previously thought as the sequel was up on GR for adding to shelves this morning), and is easily understandable even with the complicated contraptions and races that we find in the Hollow World – the world inside of our own, complete with its own races, its own wars, and everything in between. At around 300 pages, it’s a pretty quick read, and will cheer you up, even with the depressing realization that humans will do pretty much anything for power (or in this case, scientific ‘discovery’ merit), including abandoning their own so that they can be first to the finish line. However, Wells doesn’t focus on that very much – this is Emilie’s story to begin with, though it later expands to the fate of the Hollow World as humans begin to invade it for scientific discovery.
If anything, I think this book, aside from a retelling, is also a small social commentary on how things were in our society at roughly the same time – scientists going to the most wild, untouched places in order to be first to “discover” something new and bring it back for consumption for the masses, thus spoiling said beautiful, untouched places. It also may be a social commentary on how things have ended up in our world the way that they have with ecotourism only starting to give a boost and extend safeties that were in place centuries ago before Western explorers started tramping about “discovering” things. As in – this is how we’ve sort of screwed ourselves with mass species extinctions and deforestation and other nasty things. Yes, the idea of discovery is very noble and awesome, but as we see in this book, when it becomes about the ego and fame, it’s not so awesome after all. You guys know what they say about what the road to hell is paved with.
The worldbuilding is good and tight, as is the character building (aside from the aforementioned talking down/aging down departments). The sensory language and imagery is absolutely glorious – making me want to take a trip down into the Hollow World if just to experience it for myself. The idea of The Dark Wanderer as the Hollow World’s version of the moon/night was simply delicious, and I can’t wait to see what Wells does with that idea next within the next books of this series.

Final verdict? While the talking down did annoy me quite a bit, “Emilie” is a great book for MG and YA readers alike. I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on book two. “Emilie” is out today from Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot in North America, so if you’re looking for something fresh and new and awesome in the alternate history/steampunk/retellings department(s), definitely check this title out when you get the chance!

One thought on “Review: “Emilie and the Hollow World” by Martha Wells

  1. Pingback: Usagi’s challenges for 2013 | birth of a new witch.

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