Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells. ★★★1/2
Emilie and the Hollow World is reminiscent of 1800s stories such as Jules Vern’s but with a distinct Girl’s Own Adventure sort of feel. While running away from home, Emilie ends up stowing away on the wrong ship. She soon finds herself embroiled in a rescue expedition to the center of the world, where strange places and creatures lie in wait.
The society Emilie belongs to is reminiscent of Victorian England, giving the novel a steampunk vibe. There’s also magic and wizardry, and it is the currents of magic flowing through the world that propel our cast down to the hollow center and the world within the world. It is here that Martha Wells demonstrates her ample imagination, although the Hollow World does tend to remind me of her Raksura books (without any shapeshifters).
Emilie might have been my favorite thing about the novel. She’s got this intrepid spirit and really grows into her own over the course of the story. I also liked that even though the society she comes from is clearly sexist, she wasn’t the only female character among the main cast.
Emilie and the Hollow World felt clearly middle grade to me. I didn’t notice Emilie’s age ever being given, but she feels younger than a teenager. More like eleven or twelve. Somewhat perplexingly, I see other reviewers mentioning that her age is given as sixteen. Did I miss this somehow? Emilie really didn’t read as that old.
On the downside, it is a very light story. There’s not enough complexities to it to get me excited about it or emotionally invested. I’m not planning on reading the sequel. Still, it was enjoyable enough that I don’t regret reading it. Emilie and the Hollow World is certainly not Wells’s best, but if it’s her worse, it’s a testament to the general quality of her work rather than the failings of this novel.