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4.5 out of 5 stars
Emilie and the Hollow World (Strange Chemistry)
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on 19 April 2013
In the three years I've been blogging, I've seen several enthusiastic reviews for Martha Wells' adult books. Consequently, Wells has been on my radar as an author to check out at some point. Of course, my list of authors-to-check-out is about a mile long, which means that I hadn't yet gotten round to reading her Books of the Raksura series, which looked quite interesting. When Strange Chemistry announced they'd signed her in a two-book deal for a YA series, I decided that here was my chance to finally sample Wells' writing. Emilie and the Hollow World was a treat and was very entertaining.

The star of the novel is of course Emilie. A sixteen-year-old who's run away from an unhappy home life to find a hopefully brighter future as a teacher, but who ends up going on the adventure of a lifetime. What I enjoyed about Emilie is that she's self-assured, but not one of those girls that are magically skilled in anything. She does things and only later considers that if she's thought about it beforehand she might have been too scared to do it. She's not afraid to take the initiative and to let herself be heard. She has some excellent role models in Miss Marlende and the Cirathi woman Rani, who are both emancipated, strong women. I loved both of them, as at least Miss Marlende seems unconventional for her social circles, but neither of them feels out of step with the time setting of the book.

The male characters in the book run the gamut from those who are scandalised by Miss Marlende's independence, to those for whom it's unremarkable, those who admire her for it. My favourite was Kenar, the Cirathi who has come to the surface world to get help for Dr Marlende. His obvious wish to go home warred with his sense of adventure and this coupled with his kind nature made him irresistible; he made for an outsider's point of view and a safe haven for Emilie. It's also among the male characters that the differences in class in Emilie's world come to the fore most clearly. We have two upper class Lords vying for the distinction of having the Hollow World, a middle class in the form of the captain and the wizard, and the working class in the form of the various boatmen. While not a heavily belaboured point, it's the lower class characters that display the most sense and fellow feeling, while the Lords are quite ruthless - and in the case of Lord Ivers downright evil - in their pursuit of fame and fortune.

This class system is but a small part of the creation of the Hollow World. Emilie's universe had a Victorian and steampunk feel to it, though perhaps not so much steampunk, as a Jules Verne-ish sensibility. This impression is enforced by the fabulous cover by amazing15. Beyond creating this Verne-like world, Wells creates a completely unique world in her Hollow World, the world at the core of the planet. Filled with various different species, which are all not quite human, but a blend of myth and monster, and ancient cities which are mysteriously abandoned, it's a colourful environment. I found the merpeople's society fascinating with their amphibian lifestyle and the internal struggles in the kingdom of the Sealands.

The political machinations behind the disappearance of Dr Marlende and the way the mystery is resolved, were very cool, but it felt like some events and bad guys were somewhat telegraphed. However, this was the only thing that really bothered me about the book. Otherwise Emilie and the Hollow World was a wonderful tale that is also quite suitable for the younger end of the YA scale. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the second book, Emilie and the Sky World. It must be noted, however, that this book stands solidly on its own and has quite a satisfying ending. If you're looking for a fun YA adventure with a lovely, strong female protagonist, Emilie and the Hollow World is the book for you.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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I admit that I'm difficult to please when it comes to young adult fantasy fiction, because most new YA fantasy books tend to be boring and full of annoying descriptions about teenage love affairs between humans and supernatural beings etc, but fortunately there are books like Emilie and the Hollow World out there. Emilie and the Hollow World is one of the few recent books that have restored my faith in YA fantasy fiction.

Martha Wells is an amazingly versatile and talented author, because she writes all kinds of fantasy books. With Emilie and the Hollow World she proves that no matter what she writes about she always does it well. Emilie and the Hollow World is her first young adult book, and in my opinion it's an excellent achievement, because it's an old-fashioned adventure story which will be of interest to young adults and adults alike. I have to confess that I was impressed by this book.

Here's a bit of information about the story:

Emilie is a sixteen year old girl who escapes from her uncle Yeric and aunt Helena, because she doesn't want to live the life that has been planned for her. She wants to go to live with her cousin. Emilie wants to stow away on the steampship Merry Bell to Silk Harbour, but things don't go as she planned and she finds herself on the The Sovereign, which is headed to the centre of the planet, the Hollow World. The passengers and the crew of Sovereign search for Lady Marlende's father who ran into trouble when he visited the Hollow World...

And here's information and my thoughts about some of the characters:

- Emilie is an easily likeable character, who's just as stubborn as she is clever. She easily makes new friends and doesn't give up. She reminded me of the resourceful and courageous children and teenagers in Enid Blyton's books.

- Lady Marlende is a fascinating character, because she takes Emilie under her protection. She's an important role model for Emilie. It was interesting to read how she tried to search for her father and what she thought about several things.

- Kenar and Rani are also interesting characters, because they're a reptilian-like Cirathi who live in the Hollow World. It was intriguing to read about them.

There are also other characters, but I won't write about them, because I want to avoid writing spoilers.

I think it's brave of Martha Wells to write this kind of a fantasy adventure and tell the happenings through the eyes of a teenaged girl. Most adventure stories feature boys as main characters, so reading about the wondrous adventures of a teenaged girl felt refreshing.

Worldbuilding works well, because the author has created a wonderful fantasy world. The surface world is an alternate Victorian world, which is a bit similar to the world in the Ile-Rien books (the author has created a wonderfully steampunk flavoured world where science and magic exist in harmony). The inner world, the Hollow World, is a richly imagined fantasy world, which reminded me of The Three Worlds in Books of the Raksura trilogy (the author wrote about merpeople, Cirathi and plant-creatures etc. in a similar way as she did about the Raksura - the only difference was that she wrote about these things for young adults). This was a fantastic combination for me, because I like both series. I'm sure that other readers, who are familiar with the author's adult books, will be fascinated by this combination.

The Hollow World offers lots of lush landscapes for the readers. The author writes captivatingly about ancient ruins, oceans, civilizations and beings. The Hollow World is a totally different kind of a world than the surface world, because its inhabitants are different from humans (I have to mention that the matriarchal culture and civilization of the merpeople is simply compelling in its strangeness).

One of the best things about Emilie and the Hollow World is that the author doesn't underestimate the intelligence of her readership, but writes vividly about science, aether currents, engines and magic. She doesn't overwhelm her readers with too many details and descriptions about these things, but keeps everything interesting. She writes fascinatingly about scientific discoveries and inventions. I enjoyed reading about the aether currents and engines that are used to travel to the Hollow World. These marvels will be of interest to several readers who appreciate old-fashioned steampunk and sciece fiction stories.

I also enjoyed reading about The Sovereign and its crew. The author wrote fascinatingly about the ship, because it was almost like a combination of a submarine and a normal ship that has been converted to an aether-ship that can travel the aether currents.

One of the most interesting things about this book is that Martha Wells writes fluently about a woman's place and social structure in the Victorian society and how difficult it is for women to be who they want to be. It was interesting to read what Emilie thought about her situation and her aunt and uncle, because she couldn't tolerate the life they wanted her to live.

Martha Wells has a good sense of humour. She knows how to lighten the mood with witty and sarcastic comments. I enjoyed reading about Emilie's thoughts about several things, because her observations were often funny.

I think it's good that the author has written a fast-paced story that contains plenty of happenings from the first page to the last page. The first half of the book is fun to read, but things really get going in the second half of the book and it's almost impossible to stop reading the story, because you have to find out what's going to happen to the characters.

In my opinion Emilie and the Hollow World is almost like a tribute to Jules Verne. I've always liked Jules Verne's books, so I was very pleased to find out that the author had written this book in the vein of Jules Verne. I think that especially Verne's The Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Voyage au centre de la Terre) has been a source of inspiration to her. (I'll also mention that Jules Verne wasn't the only author that came to my mind when I read this book. It's possible that the author may also have been inspired by Enid Blyton and other similar authors.)

If I'm not mistaken, there will be a sequel, Emilie and the Sky World, which will be published next year, so fans of Emilie will soon have more to read. I can hardly wait to read it, because I enjoyed reading Emilie and the Hollow World.

Emilie and the Hollow World is one of the best and most entertaining YA books I've ever read, because it's a charming old-fashioned adventure book. It's been a long time since I've read anything like this. It's a shame that there aren't more this kind of books out there on the market.

If you expect adventure, danger, science and magic from your young adult fantasy, you'll love Emilie and the Hollow World, because it contains all of these elements in an entertaining format. It's an exciting adventure story with lots of heart and imagination.

Highly recommended for readers of all ages who enjoy good adventure stories!
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on 13 April 2013
Plot: The story unfolds wonderfully, starting out with a chapter that reels the reader in by peaking their curiosity and then heightening the interest with lots of action - there is no shortage of pistols being drawn! . I would have liked a couple more sub-plots but it has an understated elegance as a light read. Rating 3.5/5.

Pacing: The start is promising and the journeys by dirigible and ship are fascinating and often imbued with a sense of danger. I loved that Martha Wells kept me invested in the story by creating an air of suspense about whether the dirigible or ship would be able to overcome all the obstacles.

Emilie and her companions have to overcome glitchy magic and experimental science, a villain, unfriendly inhabitants and more. After a third of the novel I found the pace dropped off too much for my liking, which meant I ended up putting the book aside and reading something else in between. I've become so used to books that cater to impatient readers, that I've evolved into an impatient reader! Still, there was never a question of me not returning to Emilie #1, and after the slow part the story raced along again. Rating 3 out of 5.

Characters: Lady Marlende whilst being a `proper' lady is also progressive, she's not interested in being conventional and makes a brilliant role model for Emilie. Two of my favourite characters - Kenar and Rani - aren't from Emilie's world, but from the Hollow World. Lord Engal's a bit of a mystery. I think we'll get to know his true personality as the series progresses, as we don't get very close to him here.

Our main character, Emilie, is likable, but I didn't quite fall in love with her. I enjoyed her friendship with Kenar and Rani, and her admiration of Lady Marlende. I really enjoyed that the women didn't shrink back from defending themselves in battle, unless retreat was wise! And if you think long skirts can hold back a woman, think again.

For the romantics out there, you'll be happy to know there's a love interest, but that comes towards the end of the novel. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

World Building: When it comes to the world building I almost feel like retracting that I called this a light read under plot! There's a great amount of detail that goes into creating Emilie's home and the Hollow World. Martha Wells' descriptive style seems effortless, and works to create a sense of environment that is wonderfully vivid, and as much familiar as it is distinct.I loved this aspect of the book! 5 out of 5

Final thoughts: Emilie and the Hollow World is a fun read, packed with adventure and imagination. It totally hits the mark for good steampunk and while it tips its hat to classic novels, it manages to be original. The ending is perfect in that it completes this adventure, but makes the reader eager to carry on with the series. 3.6 out of 5 (from 14.5 out of 20)

Recommended to: Fans of Jules Verne and any well executed steampunk lit, it's got a younger rather than more mature YA feel to it, and that works perfectly for the story that it is.

This review also features on my blog as a post from 10th April.
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on 11 April 2013
Emilie and the Hollow World is another example of Strange Chemistry setting the bar, and then pole-vaulting right over it and into the sunset.

This book appeared on my anticipated list and for good reason: steampunk-ish adventures with magical technology and different worlds? Oh, yes; yes please.

Wells does not disappoint: Emilie and the Hollow World is a neo-Vernian adventure that is as imaginative as it is well-crafted. Emilie comes to life as a bright and energetic girl who has been put down, but has not bent. It's fantastic to see a female character with an upsetting past (but not too tragic and despairing) who is not shaped by it in a negative way. All throughout her aunt and uncle's harsh treatment and admonishments, Emilie remains true to herself.

(This is a good thing; too many female characters are broken by harsh treatment and it is simply not true to life. My sister is one of the strongest people I know, and it's completely unfair that women keep being misrepresented--it's not just irritating to women, we guys kind of hate it too. Here's an idea! Let's write women like people, hey? That'll cut it. /rant)

This, in the end leads to her running away and that's when the story begins; with Emilie hungry and desperate to gain passage onto a ship that will take her to her cousin's school, where she hopes to stay and evade her aunt and uncle. She's not running away to do anything lewd, despite what she knows they will think. She's her own person and if they can't understand that, Emilie will make them.

But before she knows it, Emilie is involved in something quite alarming and dangerous. What was supposed to be her sneaking onto a ship turns out to be an expedition to a whole other world--the world inside their own--reached through means of sorcerous technology and aether engines. Though Emilie knows something about this from the Philosophical journals, she knows nothing about magic and its uses to give her any insight into this strange new adventure.

Once she's adrift with the crew and as trapped as everyone else, searching for Dr Marlende--the only person who can help them, and who happens to be missing--Emilie unwittingly demonstrates just how cut out for adventure she is: she's bold and daring and loyal to people she's barely met for five minutes--all things that put her at home on a crew of adventurers.

But, as ever, nothing is quite as it seems. With strange new landscapes staring back at Emilie out her cabin window and a crew of men determined to prove they have all the answers, Emilie finds herself somehow at the centre of absolutely everything. She must be smart and savvy if she's to help Miss Marlende find her father and get out of the pressing danger alive.

By the time she's spent a few hours in this alien place Emilie begins to worry she will never make it back. Something is amiss and she can't quite put her finger on it: the fact that Dr Marlende is missing is bad enough, without a strange and powerful Mermen Queen suddenly causing trouble. Emilie is quickly getting lost and it's not a feeling she appreciates. But if she is to return home she must find the missing doctor and his crew.

Emilie and the Hollow World is like nothing so much as an effortless nod to Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. But it's also so much more: it is steampunk and it is adventure. It's a fantastic offering that makes me so desperate to read more of Emilie's adventure--because she simply must have more.

Wells has struck pure gold with this exciting and elaborate story that has no limits on its imagination--it perpetually surprises and entertains and keeps the reader guessing. Filled with warmth and danger and plenty of suspense, Emilie and the Hollow World is such a good, honest, real adventure that just...hits the spot. It's just so good.

I seriously hope there are more Emilie books, because I know for certain that Emilie can't possibly be content with having just one adventure.

Brilliant, fun and imaginative.
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on 28 April 2013
Mysterious contraptions, rival scientists and fascinating new lands make this steampunk romp a great fun read. I enjoyed this particularly for the characters and world building.

Emilie makes a great main character for this age bracket. At the start of the novel, she's running away from home, so she is showing initiative and drive, but as we're seeing her out of her comfort zone, she quickly comes up against challenges that really test her. I've seen some reviews on Goodreads criticising her passivity, and yes, there are some situations in which she lacks a little oomph or allows herself to be lead, but I found that entirely believable for her age (16) and for how far from her ordinary world she finds herself. I feel that these touches of realistic characterisation make for an effective novel, and allow us to easily and readily sympathise with Emilie as an 'everygirl' type character.

The world building is deftly managed, with some really nice touches of description. The different races that Martha Wells has created struck me as unique and intriguing, and seeing everything from Emilie's perspective (although in third person narration), as a curious and relatively naive outsider, brings a freshness and gentleness.

As a steampunk novel (albeit with magical aether-powered devices rather than actual steam), there is a lot of broadly Victorian (or perhaps Victorian-inspired is more accurate) detail in clothing, technology and attitudes. There is a clear feminist slant (note: this is a Good Thing), with Emilie finding an excellent role model in lady adventurer Lady Marlende.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and would definitely recommend it.
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Emilie's running away from home. Her plan is to stowaway on the steamship to Silk Harbour, to live with her cousin who runs a school. But stowing away isn't as easy as it sounds and after being mistaken for a thief, she ends up on the wrong ship. A ship on a mission to travel to the world that exists beneath the world's crust.

Emilie and the Hollow World is a wonderfully fun adventure story for the younger reader. I read it when I was ill and it was the perfect antidote. The story is a little reminiscent of The Journey to the Centre of the Earth, with a fantastical world hidden below the sea floor. Emilie finds out that seaweed isn't always harmless, stumbles into a rivalry between philosophical sorcerers and does her very best not to get involved in all-out war.

Emilie's world above ground, is an alternative steampunk earth. The sorcerers specialise in the study of aetheric currents which powers the ships and gives them the ability to travel to the hollow world. Emilie's a fantastic, if a little naive, character who is learning that life isn't always fair for girls. She has a great role model in Lady Marlende and discovers that first impressions shouldn't be relied on. However, there's no in-depth character development, which I don't think matters for this kind of story. As one of the blurbs states it's a "rollicking adventure" and the ideal book to give to a child who is between children's books and young adult (warning: Emilie does mention her Aunt and Uncle think her mother was a whore).

I'm looking forward to more adventures with Emilie.

Review copy provided by publisher.
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