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Clare B. Dunkle
book cover

Hollow Kingdom Trilogy Book 1
2003, October, Henry Holt
Buy from Amazon.com (hardcover)

Who recommends: Preeti, Margaret, Edith, JW
Who discommends:

A site visitor suggested we should note Clare B. Dunkle's THE HOLLOW KINGDOM as the winner of the 2004 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature since it has a romance. So I checked this book out of the library and find that the strange courtship between the goblin king and a young girl in rural Regency England is central to the story. While in some ways unsettling all the way to the end, this was a very good read indeed. Thanks, site visitor!

Kate, a very young woman, and her even younger sister go to live with relatives in the countryside. There the older catches the eye of the goblin king in the woods, and he begins his pitiless (I like that word--it's used in the book and it's a perfect descriptor) mission of stealing her away to become his bride.

Marak is a king, but he's really no prince. He's old, misshapen, a widower, and generally kinda scary. And yet Dunkle makes him grow on you. He's almost good-naturedly amoral. By the end he's weirdly appealing and downright heroic and the romance not quite as bizarre as it should be.

I loved that Dunkle didn't make the heroine the victim, didn't make this book a captive/captor romance. Instead, as ruthless as Marak is in his pursuit and as reluctant as Kate to be captured by him, there is a battle of wits that's actually quite exhilirating to witness. The resolution to the battle is a little bittersweet but really satisfying, too.

What didn't grab me was the fact that the goblins are ugly because they value strength over beauty. Didn't quite get why Marak was attracted to pretty young girls, then. Anyway. There were some underlying disturbing things that never went away, but they made the story rich and interesting.

The goblin character novelty was great, too, i.e., having goblins at the forefront instead of the elves, whom they scorn as weak. Kinda reminds me (and =only= in the sense that goblins and elves play a major role) the Meredith Gentry books. I obviously don't read enough folklore-based stories.

Lastly, what luck. I read this book a month ago, just in time for the sequel, CLOSE KIN, to have come out. CLOSE KIN also promises a romance in the next generation of characters. I liked THE HOLLOW KINGDOM enough to order CLOSE KIN new in hardcover from Amazon.--Preeti (18 Oct 04)

After Preeti's interesting review I checked out the local library and found a copy which I read last night. I found it well-written and enjoyable. There's not much I can add to Preeti's review except a few comments:

Kate is 18 at the start of the book and her sister Emily is 11. Emily will be the heroine of the next book.

I didn't find Marak amoral. True he was determined to make Kate his wife, regardless of her wishes, but that was for the survival of his race and he did her as little harm as he could, in the circumstances, although he did tease her dreadfully. After the marriage he treated her kindly and did all he could to make her happy, apart from letting her leave.

I, too, appreciated the fact that Kate was not a victim. She resisted Marak to the best of her abilities and was more successful than either he or she expected.

Preeti commented that, as goblins valued strength over beauty, it was odd that Marak went for a pretty young girl. I didn't find this odd as it's mentioned, more than once, that Marak was part elf and this accounted for his appreciation of beauty. Also, although Kate isn't physically strong, she's very strong in a number of other important ways.

The library has the sequel on order and I've requested it.--Margaret (19 Oct 04)

Thanks for correcting my mistakes, Margaret. I wrote this review in about five minutes yesterday after having read the book a month ago, and the sloppiness showed (although I hope my enthusiasm for it did too!)--Preeti (19 Oct 04)

I read this book a couple of weeks ago and want to add my enthusiastic recommendation to Preeti's and Margaret's. I thought Dunkle did a fabulous job making an initially physically repulsive "hero" appealing. He's smart, engaging, and has a sense of humor.

I also want to add that there's a character at the end of the book, the Queen's Charm, who steals the book. I wish she'd write a book where Charm has a larger role.--Edith (20 Oct 04)

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