Fantasy Review: ‘Emilie and the Hollow World’ by Martha Wells

Why, oh why, can I not enjoy a book by Martha Wells?  She does so many things right.  When it comes to quality of writing she is much better than many others I enjoy.  One could never accuse her of being trite or cliché; every book is original and unique.  Yet I can’t seem to enjoy her work.  ‘Death of a Necromancer’ was interesting enough, but left me bored.  I barely was able to get through ‘The Wizard Hunters.’  Wanting to give her one more chance I was happy to see her trying out a YA book; maybe this time I would feel the magic.

‘Emilie and the Hollow World’ is a quick little read about a young girl who stows away on a journey to the center of the world.  Found too late to be put back ashore she is put under the eye of Lady Marlende, who has put together the trip to rescue her father.  Pursued by her father’s rival looking to steal the glory, the crew meet a few fantastic creatures and are dragged into a possible war.  Adventure awaits!

Once again Wells does so many things right.  Emilie is a runaway, but not from a cliché ridden horrible backstory.  Her home life is… disappointing, not full of starvation and abuse.  Lady Marlende is a strong, capable women doing fairly well in a patriarchal society.  The crew is a varied group.  Emilie seems smart enough, though at times she wavers between clueless and the smartest one around. She is also the very opposite of a Mary Sue.  Sometimes she is helpful, but she doesn’t discover any super powers or a long lost destiny.  For the most part she is just along for the ride.

And right there is where I think I started having issues with this book.  With maybe one exception Emilie, the title character, could have been left right out of the story and it wouldn’t have mattered.  I often complain about unnecessary secondary characters, but not often do I feel the title character is unneeded.  (Side note, I am reminded of a book in which the story was told by a mouse watching all the events going on, but never affecting them.  Anyone else remember this?)  In some ways this is more realistic, the teen girl doesn’t over take the entire trip.  But at times the crew seems to be crediting her with the successes, and I just don’t see what she did.

The ‘alien’ species that the crew meets in the center of the earth are also problematic for me.  They take the Star Trek approach, looking different but in reality completely human in nature.  That could come down to the YA nature of the book, but I would have liked to have seen at least a small amount of culture shock upon meeting.

I guess I just don’t know what the point is.  There was very little wonder and awe in the center of the world, with human like aliens involving the crew in human like problems.  It is Emilie’s story, but she is more bystander than participant.  And once again, Wells takes some interesting ideas and leaves me cold.  I got to learn to stay away.

3 stars.  Mostly based on a strong beginning. 

Review copy received from NetGalley.

On the other hand, Pauline loved ‘The Cloud Roads,‘ so your mileage may vary.


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