Hollow City – Ransom Riggs

Remember that time two weeks ago when I re-read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? Well, this week, I finished the sequel, Hollow City.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was the surprise best seller of 2011—an unprecedented mix of YA fantasy and vintage photography that enthralled readers and critics alike. Publishers Weekly called it “an enjoyable, eccentric read, distinguished by well-developed characters, a believable Welsh setting, and some very creepy monsters.”

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly mesmerizing) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight readers of all ages.”

This book has been almost three years in the making, so a lot of people were really impatient for it (I wouldn’t say I was impatient so much as curious). I’m glad I decided to re-read Miss Peregrine otherwise I would have been completely lost, since it picks up literally seconds after the last scene of the first book.

I don’t know how I felt about Hollow City. I had mixed feelings after re-reading Miss Peregrine, so I think I felt the same way with this one. There were certain elements that I really liked: the peculiar children were given more personality in this one (sidenote: I wanted to punch Enoch in the face almost every time he said something, but I think he’s supposed to be the most antagonistic of the group. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns evil later), the new characters were the right blend of creepy and fascinating (mini spoiler: the girl on the cover is named Sam!), and there’s a pipe-smoking talking dog. You can’t go wrong with a pipe-smoking talking dog!

Addison, the talking dog.

I felt like this time around the photos were integrated (almost) seamlessly: there were still a few instances of “oh, how convenient we found a photo of an old woman with a chicken behind her” and then the next page was a photo of an old woman with a chicken behind her, but there were many more photos that were just thrown in like an illustration.

Of course, with both books, there was the odd photo that didn’t seem to have a purpose apart from Ransom Riggs just wanting to show it off, but it’s probably more difficult to build a book around photos than most people believe, so it’s forgiveable.

As for the actual plot: there seemed to be a lot of  running around, but not a lot of action, if you know what I mean. Like, a lot of “hey, let’s go in here!” and then they meet someone new who may or may not join in their adventure, but nothing big happens until the end when they realize (without spoiling anything) that the bad guys are closer than they think.

Also the whole time-travel thing can be confusing because it’s not always clear where (when!) in time they are. So make sure you pay close attention (even though sometimes he doesn’t actually say where/when they are).

Finally, the Jacob-and-Emma relationship continues to be the creepiest part of the plot for me, and she does not help when she says stuff like “I’m an old woman trapped in a girl’s body”. Way to make it weird, Emma (it reminds me of  Jane Eyre when Mr. Rochester was all “I’m old enough to be your father”, and that made it more awkward than it already was).

It’s still worth a read; the actual writing is very good (maybe too good given how foolish Jacob seems to be). I guess it’s a slow-building series, where there’s a lot of set-up and the third book is going to BLOW MY MIND. I hope, anyway.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

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“A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.”

I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for the first time a couple of years ago, but since the second one came out earlier this year, I figured I’d re-read it.

I remember being so impressed with the book the first time I read it – I loved how the photos were worked into the story (some of them are actually quite creepy) and I liked the overall plot. I still like the plot and the photos, but this time around, it took me a lot longer to get into it.

Maybe it’s because I knew what was coming, but the beginning seemed to draw out for quite some time before it got to the point. I get that – the plot was being set up, it’s obviously going to be (at least) a trilogy so there’s plenty of space to get into the story, but there were moments where I found myself wishing it would speed up.

As I mentioned, I loved the creepy photos, but it repetitive every time he pointed it out i.e. before every photo, Jacob would say something like “I recognized ___ because I had seen their photo in ___’s album”. Whereas the story might have flowed better if the photos were inserted like illustrations in a children’s book: no pointing it out, just BOOM, here’s a picture, look at it and figure out how it works with the story.

“We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.”

I love how this line punches you right in the heart, especially when you read it in context. But this quotation – and a few other other moments – sound more like they’re coming from Ransom-Riggs-the-author and less like they’re being spoken (or thought) by Jacob-the-narrator. Jacob never struck me as particularly bright so when he comes up with something this poetic or profound, it seems out of place.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fascinating read, once you get into it. The peculiar children all have interesting talents which are well-described. Actually, everything is well-described i.e. lots of detail everywhere (I have mixed feelings about details). I know it sounds like I didn’t like it, but I really did enjoy it (even though I still think the Jacob-Emma relationship – not the children, not even the time loop – is the most unbelievable aspect of the whole story.). And since Tim Burton is set to direct a movie adaptation, you know I’m going to see it (maybe I’m just biased because he’s one of my heroes, but if there’s one director who can handle something so creepy and eccentric, it’s Tim Burton).

I’m going to start reading Hollow City soon and will hopefully finish it by next Friday!