Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

DSCF1374It’s fair to say that it would be more than unusual for both the book and the film of Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children to have escaped your notice. It seems to have been everywhere I looked – which is not a bad thing considering how much I enjoyed the book when I first read it. I’ve had the second book, Hallow City, on my shelves since my birthday (thank you fabulous boyfriend), and recently bowed down to my craving to re-enter this world.

Now, I’m not going to explain the plot of the first book, except to say that it centers upon a group of people who have peculiar, strange, and fantastic abilities. These people however, are hunted by the monstrous Wights and Hallowgasts, a fearful group who hunger for the powers the Peculiars have. The second book continues where the first left off, with the children seeking a way to restore their leader, Miss Peregrine, and to try to salvage what little remains of their life as they try to run from the Wights. Filled with adventure and surprises, this book flows effortlessly from the first, creating a richer and fuller world which is the backdrop to this series.

Obviously I cannot talk about this series without discussing the use of the photographic images within the pages. When I read the first book, I was staggered by the organic way that the story had been created based upon real life images that the author had found. This technique seemed so integral to the first novel, and made it so wholly unique, that I was slightly nervous about how it could be continued throughout the series. I needn’t have worried. The photos contained within this book are just as brilliantly strange, just as quirky and gothic, that they once more perfectly encapsulated the fantastical tone of the books. It was fascinating to see how this time around, Riggs already had an established plot, and so had the different challenge of finding image which would continue and heighten this in fitting with his preconceived ideas. Although different to the creation of the first novel, he still pulled it off brilliantly, and made me love this multimedia use all over again. In fact, the physical book itself is extremely artistic, with beautifully designed cover and inside pages, all combined with a weighty paper which screams quality.

Now, I gave the first book in this series a three out of five stars rating. That may seem low to some, but I use the GoodReads rating system, and that actually represents for me an enjoyable book. I found some issues with the plot, but nothing major to interrupt the reading process, and was left wanting to return to the series. In my own opinion, the second book blew the first out of the water! It had been a while since I read the first, so perhaps this contributed to it, but I just adored this sequel. The plot was extremely fast paced, as children’s books tend to be to encourage reading, but nothing else suffered because of this. The character were all complete individuals, and just as vibrant as they had been in the first book . Like many series the first book does most of the groundwork, creating the world and introducing the reader to it. With this already accomplished, I felt the author was able to fly with these existing ideas, bringing the plot itself to much greater and richer heights. So much happens within this book, yet not once did I feel overwhelmed or confused.  I continued to read with an unbearable thirst for what was to come next. Moments needed to bridge the gaps between the larger overall plot were blissfully extinct.

I think the thing which really made me love this book so much was the continued use of imagination. The book is rife with it, and such a success because of it. The ideas which we see are not only the perfect accompaniment to the unusual images within, but also something which could stand on its own; an incredible testament to the authors talent. One of the reasons I first fell in love with reading at such a young age was the ability within books to hold and transport us quite literally into whole new worlds and locations. It is escapism at its finest, a free license for inspiration. Imagination plays a vital role in many children’s books, encouraging a love for reading, and these tropes were used to perfection in this book. Reading this at the age of 22, I was transported back in time to those moments of childhood when reading first instilled in me such excitement and potential. From talking animals (done extremely well), time travel, unusual friendships, magical moments and everything in between. It was a candy store of imagination.

Another aspect which I really enjoyed was the use of metafiction. We are given stories within stories, mostly through the introduction of the book Tales of the Peculiar. This book mirrors the fairytales many readers like myself would have grown up reading, yet often turn the conventions on their heads to reflect the lives of the Peculiars. Despite the strangeness of some of these stories, and the occasional abrupt endings, there was something extremely wholesome about it, as if the multiple layers of stories were once more a passage back into my childhood. This novel, and indeed the previous book, also focuses on the use of history. As a history buff myself and lover of historical fiction, I thought these ideas were executed brilliantly. There were nods to pivotal moments of history, yet the book never once became enslaved to events of the past, staying firmly within the realm of the Peculiars and how their situation actually relates to it.

In fact, one of the only things I found to be slightly problematic within this book was the occasional use of speech where the children are concerned. In a few instances their speech seemed  a bit unnatural and not necessarily authentic. Yet when I stopped and actually thought about it, even this made perfect sense. These kids are not from our narrator’s (Jacob) or indeed our time. They are from an age where children did speak very differently to a modern reader, and this is reflected through their speech. Just as other elements of the book were extremely reminiscent for me, so was this, taking me back to the days where I constantly read Enid Blytons The Famous Five books, hearing the children’s stereotypically British penchant for ‘lashings of ginger beer’!

Whilst I see the heart of this book being its imagination, the writing must be equally applauded. There were instances of writing which conjured up such vivid images, with often beautiful pose. For instances, the children at one point run:

‘. . . down long blocks of blacked out windows staring like lidless eyes. Past a bombed library  snowing ash and burning papers. Through a bombed cemetery, long forgotten Londoners unearthed and flung into trees, grinning in rotten formal wear.A curlicued swing set in a cratered playground. The horrors pilled up, incomprehensible, the bombers now and then dropping flares to light it all up with the pure, shining white of a thousand camera flashes.’ (p. 269).

Through this one example you can see the tension between the grotesque realities and the wonderful use of imagery to conjure up such scenes.

I flew through this book, and I think most other people will too. If you are someone who likes to read, or is perhaps new to it and struggle to remain engaged with a book, then I think this would be a perfect place to start. There is never a dull moment, with everything continually moving forwards whilst still developing and maturing the characters. To put it simply, this is an imaginative funfair which I did not want to leave.

Has anyone seen the film? How does it compare to the book?

Publisher: Quirk Books

Rating: 5*/5*



5 thoughts on “Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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