Hallow Hill has a strange and tragic history. For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from the estate, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have come to live at Hallow Hill. Brought up in a civilized age, they have no idea of the land’s dreadful heritage. Until, that is, Marak decides to tell them himself.
Intelligent, pleasant, and completely pitiless, Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be a King–and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom. (Add to Goodreads)
I didn’t realize it till after I’d finished it–that’s how different it is from other retellings and even its source material–but The Hollow Kingdom is basically a unique twist on the old Beauty and the Beast tale. And by “unique,” I don’t mean that it’s got a clever twist on the trope that makes it stand out from the crowd.
I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything like this one, and that’s probably what I appreciate about it most.
When their dad dies, Kate and Emily Winslow are left without a legal guardian. Finally, an obnoxious relative steps up and agrees to be their legal guardian–his motives aren’t exactly selfless, but that’s beside the point. He lives at the family estate on Hallow Hill, which Kate will inherit from her late mother once she officially comes of age.
There are lots of old, weird folktales about Hallow Hill–ones about goblins kidnapping human girls and dragging them underground to marry them. The sisters shrug this off as neighbors clinging to old-fashioned tales designed to scare girls from going out too late. But when Kate and Emily stay outside stargazing one night, Kate swears she feels someone watching them.
As it turns out, she’s right. All the old stories about Hallow Hill are true–it’s located roughly around where elf territory used to be, and right above the goblin kingdom. Kate, bless her English soul, has attracted the attention of the goblin king, Marak: he wants her as his bride.
This leads to a huge game of cat versus mouse, which a large chunk of the book focuses on. Mouse, thanks to Kate’s intelligence and resourcefulness, usually manages to outsmart cat at the last second. Cat, thanks to Marak’s self-assurance and flippancy, is pretty hilarious.
Eventually, though, Emily goes missing. Faced with losing the last real family she has left, Kate decides to take matters into her own hands. She marches into the goblin kingdom and offers her own hand in marriage to the goblin king–if he helps her get her sister back.
This leads into my favourite part of the book: Kate’s life in the goblin kingdom. The worldbuilding here is incredibly rich, and there’s nothing out there quite like Dunkle’s goblin society. And when the roughly 19th-century Kate first arrives there, it horrifies her. Goblins are hideous (and Dunkle did a dang good job making them hideous, for the record) and harsh, valuing strength over beauty and truth over manners. Marak takes real joy in teasing Kate, and as king, he’s sometimes ruthless in the name of protecting his kingdom.
But the more Kate sees, the more she comes to appreciate the goblins. They may not be as refined as she’s used to, and some of them may be traumatizing to look at–but like their king, they really do care about her, and they’re kind. They shower her with jewellry and pick flowers for her when they go aboveground to patrol their lands. More than that, they’re loyal to the end, and their hearts really are in the right places. They’re just good.
In the end, that’s more than Kate can say for the human race. Over a year after she’s signed herself over to goblin life, the kingdom comes under threat–from a human sorcerer. He wants the goblins’ magic for himself, and to get it, he’s willing to bring the whole race toppling down. When Kate’s the only one left with any real knowledge of the human world, it’s up to her to venture back to her old life and find the sorcerer–then bring him down to save her new kingdom.
To be fair, the resolution to that particular issue came about a little too easily for me. But Kate made up for it afterwards–you’ll see what I mean if you read it–and in doing so, she showed not only some character growth, but some real guts.
My other quibble would be that we spent more time in the cat-and-mouse portion of the story than in the actual goblin kingdom. Compared to something so vibrant and bizarre, hanging out in the human realm is boring by comparison.
Ultimately, though, The Hollow Kingdom is a quick, really enjoyable read. Besides the worldbuilding, Marak made this book for me, and the supporting characters–especially Seylin, the goblin boy who’s an outcast because he’s pretty, and Charm, a magical entity that protects all Kings’ Wives–were equally brilliant. I give this one 4/5 stars, and look forward to reading the next book in the series.