The Hollow Kingdom
(the first in a trilogy) is very much a fairytale story, with dead parents, wicked (or at least inept) guardians, goblins and other creatures, magic, hidden kingdoms, a king desperately seeking a wife, and a beautiful girl trying her best to escape him. The story has a very "classic" feel to it, but the whole thing was far more fleshed out and developed than the traditional fairytales, even though the book does feel quite short at times (despite being around 70 000 words long).
In some areas the setting lacks development and colour, but fortunately the characters - and their subsequent developments - shine to the point where I almost did not notice the lack of setting. Kate is a very strong and resourceful character, and even in the darkest moments she relies on this inner strength and her own intelligence to keep her going and to fight back against whatever threatens her and her sister, Emily. Instead of waiting for rescue, she is the one coming up with plans and going off to do the rescuing herself, and she is determined to do right by her little sister, as they are all they have left now.
The other great triumph of characters and characterization is Dunkle taking great pains to show us that "ugly" does not equal "evil", something which goes up against the older fairytales and, sadly, some more modern novels. The goblins are all described as having various deformities and shades of strangeness, due to the wild variation of maternal genetic stock (they can apparently interbreed with anything
- it is mentioned that they only eat male animals, as any female is considered a potential mother) but they are not evil because of it. And once Kate starts to see the beauty in these strange people, the reader starts to see so too.
This isn't a perfect book, by any means - the beginning is a bit clunky and awkward, and there are some deeper and darker issues that were passed over (although this sort of makes sense, considering this is more a MG/lower YA book) - but it was quite enjoyable nonetheless, and had some very interesting characters and ideas inside of it. As soon as I am able, I will be getting my hands on parts two and three of the trilogy: Close Kin
and In The Coils Of The Snake