Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs

When my granddad died, we were left with the task of cleaning out his home.  As he was something of a tinkerer and a packrat, it was full of old appliances and machines that had seen better days.  It wasn’t a fun task.  And yet, somehow, from the pile of microwaves and computer towers, my dad found a box of pictures and paperwork.  I was sorting through the pictures a couple of years ago, and came across one that was maybe two-inches square, and showed three Nazi officers in the back of an open-topped car, talking and laughing.  There was no note on the back of the photo to show who they were, or how my granddad got it (obviously, it was during his time in Europe during the war, but more than that, we can only speculate).  For a historian, it’s a frustrating thing to have a great piece of history with no provenance information. 

I hadn’t thought of that picture for ages until I picked up my latest read, Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs.  Hollow City is a sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and picks up directly where the first novel ended.  Just like MPHfPC, Hollow City is peppered with contemporary pictures that help drive the story along.  In this case, the story is set in war-time London during the days (and nights) of the Blitz.  While the first book in the series was driven by curiosity pictures, this book is driven more by pictures from the war and its effects on the population.  There is the occasional curiosity picture included, but nothing like in the first book.  This kind of bumed me out, and I wish there had been more of the odd photos.

While I enjoyed where the plot went with this sequel, I felt that the characters suffered a bit.  In the first book, Jacob is described so wonderfully and completely, but it seems that Riggs feels he put in the time he needed to to define his character, and anything more wasn’t required in this book.  There is a bit of character development near the end with Jacob, but then the plot undoes that growth.  It’s hard to be clearer without some massive spoilers, and as this is a book that I enjoyed, I don’t want to give anything away.

As for the other characters, it seems to me that Riggs left a few children behind in this book; the first book seemed to describe multiple children at Miss Peregrine’s home that weren’t the focus of the story (kind of like background noise), but in this book, it was only the children actively involved in the first part of the story that make it into the book.  I could be wrong about this (my abilities to concentrate/remember details has slipped in the last year), but I found I was distracted by that point.  And yet, there was the introduction of several new characters along the way that I found really interesting and enjoyed.  So, a bit of a hodgepodge, really.

And yet, for all these minor flaws, this was still a great read.  I really enjoyed picking up where the last story left off and the development of the story and the mythos that Riggs had created for his characters.  As the story progresses, so to does the readers’ knowledge of the ‘peculiar’ landscape, which, as you might imagine, is an interesting and intriguing place.

So, final verdict?  I’d say this is a book to read.  I really enjoyed the first book in the series, and the second book was nicely done as well.  As with the first book, Riggs left his reader with a cliff-hanger, and I know I’ll be back for more.  As for that picture of the Nazi officers we found in my granddad’s paperwork, I now wonder if I missed something in it; I’ll have to take a closer look someday to see if I can see their eyes and mouths clearly…. you never know; I might have proof of a hollogast on my hands.

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