“Em, I am trying to have an important conversation!" shouted Seylin. "I will not change into a cat!” —Claire B Dunkle
(3.5/5⭐️) The Hollow Kingdom lives on in the second installment centered around Emily and Seylin. The story takes place a number of years following Kate’s marriage to Marek. Emily is now eighteen and of marriageable age. When she refuses Seylin’s hand in marriage, Seylin decides to leave his home in search of elves and an elf bride. Emily, realizing her mistake, sets out to find him and bring him home. This is a journey of learning for both. Seylin succeeds in finding the elves, but he upsets the balance in the process, igniting age old prejudices in the process. Will Emily find him in time?
I love the world Claire B Dunkle created. It’s enchanting. I want to live in the hollow kingdom under hollow hill with all the frighteningly ugly goblins and their magic. I thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in these books. I only wish the books were longer, with more substance. They are of a novella length, written for middle grade, so they skim a lot of details you might see in YA and adult fantasy. All too soon, the story is at an end, but you’re left wanting to remain.
Close Kin follows Kate’s younger sister, Seylin, and Sable. It centers more around the elves, digging deeper into their culture and history. There were a number of stories told that allowed me to glean a better understanding as Dunkle fleshed out ideas that were only hinted at in the first book. I find myself wishing this was a full fledged YA series with multiple spin offs and novellas. The potential is there.
Emily, Seylin, and Sable all have their own character arc. These arcs are fairly subtle, and mostly plot driven. Emily must realize that Seylin is the man she wants to marry, and find him in time to tell him this. Seylin believes that finding the elves is what he wants, only to be wrong. And Sable believes that her horrible life with the elves is better than any other life she might live, even if it means being treated like a dog and eating scraps off the floor. Sable learns in the end that her beliefs were wrong, and that life can be better, if only surrounded by people who treat her as she deserves to be treated.
Seylin is born a goblin but looks more like an elf. He has a magical ability to turn into a cat. A handy trick, I might add. He doesn’t fit in with the goblins because he’s pretty. In a world where being ugly is appealing, he gets teased for being too pretty. He hopes that by going to live with elves, who are all pretty like him, that he might be able to find a place to fit in. The elves are nearly gone from the world, so he must search and search to find them. What he finds is a sad, pathetic existence. Most of the elves are gone, killed from the age-old battle feuds between goblins and elves, who warred in years past. There’s nothing left for Seylin here. But this is where he finds Sable and Irina, the last two elvish women. Both Sable and Irina are treated like trash by their small tribe. They are left to do all the undesirable work. They are disrespected. They are brainwashed, told they are ugly and useless. The men strive to be purposefully mean to them. This is never how goblins would treat their women. Goblins prize elven women.
For time immemorial, Goblins have stolen human and elvish women to take for their brides, to preserve their lines and keep their kingdom alive. It’s a war-band type of mentality. It appears brutal. In a way, it is, because these women are taken against their will. However, they are treated well, like royalty, not like slaves. They are allowed to do whatever they wish, marry whichever goblin they wish, learn magic, learn reading, writing, and become distinguished members of goblin society. The only thing they are deprived of is the freedom to leave the kingdom under hollow hill. It’s a rather archaic idea, and still surprises me that stealing women is considered middle grade. But it’s written in a middle grade style, and there isn’t any violence portrayed. After all, it’s a fantasy story about ugly monsters. But I could see some people bashing the book for this reason. I find the story charming, if only because the women who are taken are given better lives and removed from danger.
Irina and Sable are taken from a PTSD inducing type of environment and nurtured, cared for, and cherished. They learn that goblins aren’t monsters. In fact, the monsters are the ones they were rescued from. And since they are elves, they can’t just go off and live with the humans. Hollow Hill is really the only place for them. They are given the best life possible. They are allowed to pick their husbands, their grievances are heard, and Marek, the goblin king does everything in his power to see that they are made happy. He personally teaches them magic alongside his elvish wife, Kate, something the elven males had deprived them of. Here in the goblin kingdom, Sable and Irina thrive.
Compared to the first book, this one wasn’t as good. I was nervous to read it for YEARS because of this. I was afraid it would be a huge letdown. I found myself pleasantly surprised. It was a fast, enjoyable read. I liked it. It WAS good, but still not as good as the first. I don’t feel I can give it a five star rating because it’s very simple, and the character arcs are very minor. It lacked the banter seen in the first book between Kate and Marek. But for a middle grade book, I think it hits the nail on the head. It sets out to do what it claims to do and I must fairly judge it as such.