Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Junodog's Thoughts on Hollow Earth

Back when I was a sophomore at Montana State University, I got the chance to take a very enlightening class on film, theater, and media and how to spot what inspired a film. It was probably one of the best classes I ever took, and when I went to the theater-classroom to take the final exam, I was ready. Up until the point when they started handing out the final and I noticed that it had something to do with the French Revolution or something, I was so totally ready. ...Except that I was about two hours late.  Turns out I had mixed up the time of this exam with the exam time for a different class, and I then made my way to the film department in a panic to explain the situation and hope that my professor would take pity on me and let me take the exam at another time.

He did, and he was very nice about it in the email he sent, saying that these things happen and not to worry. I did pretty well on the exam when I actually did take it, and everything worked out nicely, but there was still a slight problem: I was going to have to train myself to double-check things better. I mean, he had said the date for the final several times in class and it was written pretty clearly on the syllabus, but somehow I had gotten the time for my other class's final in my head (which wasn't even at that time; it was moved to some other random time for some reason that I can't remember) and it was so deeply set in my brain that I didn't even think to check it.

Well, it's been four years since then and I think it's safe to say that that part of me hasn't changed one single f&#*ing bit bit. Only this time, instead of mixing up exam times, I got the Hollow Earth series by John and Carole Barrowman mixed up with Exodus code and, up until I finished reading Hollow Earth a few months ago, was under the impression that it was going to be a Torchwood novel. It was only when I was about halfway through the book that I began to suspect that I had gotten confused again.

On the bright side, I can't say I was disappointed about this little realization. On the contrary, I was relieved, because as much as I loved the book, it would have made for a really bad Torchwood side-story. It definitely belongs in a universe of its own, and I wish I'd realized a lot sooner that it was, in fact, in its own universe (and a pretty kick-arse universe at that), because that had been one of my biggest concerns about the novel, and it literally wasn't going to be a problem AT ALL.

Anyway, that being said, here is my review of the first two books in the series: Hollow Earth and Bone Quill. Not going into detail in this post to avoid spoilers, but I'm sure I'll get into a more detailed, spoilerrific review at some point.

1. Premise
This one's pretty easy. The basic idea behind Hollow Earth is that some artists are capable of more than just making beautiful pictures - some (known as Animare) can use their imaginations to literally bring their paintings to life, and there are others (known as Guardians) who can use their imaginations to do... well, the kind of telepathic stuff that Professor Xavier does, except I don't think there's telekinesis involved. As with a lot of other super-awesome-mind-blowing abilities that people have in a modern-day setting, there's a society that exists to protect these people from the world (and in some cases, protect the world from these people), and of course, there are a bunch of bad guys who want to take this wonderful ability and use it for their Purposes of Nefarious Evil or something like that, and so we have the opportunity to experience action, adventure, drama, suspense, humor, and all that other stuff that people like in their books. Definitely a solid premise in my opinion.

2. Plot
So, we have a premise, but what about the actual story that happens in the book(s)? Hollow Earth focuses on a set of preteen twins named Matt and Emily who, unlike anyone who came before them, have the abilities of both Animare and Guardians, and this is a matter of concern for a lot of people because nobody really knows what could happen with these two. Let's just call them the Harry Potter Jesus figures of the story - the children who are Special and who have Magical Abilities That Nobody Else Has and maybe throw something about destiny in there for good measure, I dunno. They are at the center of the story, and they have people trying to protect them, some other people trying to protect the world from them, and yet another group of people who want to use them for their Purposes of Nefarious Evil. Not the most original plot in the world, but then again what is? Besides, there are plenty of original elements in this story and the way the story unfolds makes it stand out so all in all, the focus on our Harry Potter Jesus twins works out pretty well, especially since...

3. Characters
...The characters in this series are realistic. A couple of them do come off as two-dimensional at times, but I think this can be largely attributed to the fact that they're not the focus of the series and there isn't really enough space for them to develop without distracting from the main story, so it doesn't really detract anything from the series as a whole. The ones that do get developed are just... damn. I particularly like the way the twins develop through the first two books. Matt especially grows a lot, and while I definitely like Emily better as a character, Matt goes through some realistic changes and, by the end of the second book, redeems himself by going from a gratingly obnoxious little numbskull (though I do cut him a little slack because he is only twelve at the start of the series and let's face it, kids do some really f*&^ing stupid sh*t sometimes) to learning from his mistakes, expressing genuine remorse, and essentially reforming into a better human being, while still retaining all the aspects of his personality that make him who he is. He is definitely somebody I can see existing in real life. Emily, on the other hand, reminds me of what I was like as a kid - cautious, easily worried, and not always sure of how to balance that with the urge to be, well, a kid. The two balance each other out pretty well and their relationship with each other reflects that. I'll go into detail on the other characters some other time, but let's just say that the characters make the story one that's more than worth reading.

4. Other Random Things That Aren't Really Reflective of the Quality of the Series But Did Affect How Much I Enjoyed Reading It

  • This story takes place in the UK. Which isn't at all surprising when you consider that the authors are siblings who spent the first part of their lives in Scotland, but I'm an American and I got pretty annoyed with myself when, about 40 pages into Hollow Earth, I realized I was reading all the dialogue in an American accent. Sure, it doesn't affect the story at all, but I WANT MY BRAIN TO APPLY THE PROPER ACCENTS TO ANYTHING I READ GOD DAMN IT. *cough* Moving on...
  • I read the entirety of Hollow Earth, and the second half of Bone Quill, upstairs from my family's art gallery/framing shop. The first half of Bone Quill I read in the gallery (waiting for someone to stop by after hours to pick something up, but still). Pretty fitting when you consider what the story's about.
  • I am still awesome at reading things really quickly while still absorbing what's being read. I finished both books within 24 hours of starting them, and I've gotta admit I'm feeling pretty smug about that.
  • The cover art's pretty sweet for the American hardcover editions. Illustrator Nigel Quarless deserves a lot of credit for his work.
And I think that covers the basics. All in all, I enjoyed both Hollow Earth and Bone Quill and I look forward to the continuation of the series. More importantly, I loved being taken on an adventure this summer. So much so, in fact, that I thought I'd return the favor.

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