September 3, 1940. Ten peculiar children flee an army of deadly monsters. And only one person can help them – but she’s trapped in the body of a bird. The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. There, they hope to find a cure for their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. And before Jacob can deliver the peculiar children to safety, he must make an important decision about his love for Emma Bloom. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.
I went into Hollow City, the second book in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series with some trepidation – second book syndrome is real, people – but my nerves were totally unwarranted. Hollow City is so freaking good.
Riggs uses the sequel to build on the peculiar world he introduced in Miss Peregrine #1, creating an atmosphere so richly imagined that to start reading it was to leave my own life altogether. There wasn’t a single occasion on picking this book up that I wasn’t instantly sucked into the drama playing out in its pages. And I am a pretty distractible person, so this was a big deal. I have talked before about how the Harry Potter books have this specific ‘feeling’ for me. There is a piece of me that I can access in the Harry Potter books that I don’t usually, even though I read a ton. Reading Hollow City was the closest I have come to getting that feeling outside of the wizarding world. It is an immersive experience.
This is in part because the novel consists largely of the peculiar children lurching from one disaster to another. Riggs doesn’t give us much in the way of breathing time before thrusting the children in the way of the next life threatening event, whether that was the Hollows, gypsies or running through London during a World War Two bombing. And, to throw another curveball their way, for the first time in years, the children are coping with all of this relatively alone. Miss Peregrine, after the attack of the Wights, is unable to revert to human form. With their matriarch and protector trapped as a bird, the children are for the first time leaderless. With no safe time loop to live in, no Ymbryne to care for them and evil forces getting ever closer, the situation is only set to get bleaker (which of course, it does).
After being initially put off by the Miss Peregrine problem (they went through so much to save her! How could Ransom Riggs do this?!?!?!), it was actually quite relieving watching the children operate without her. Characters who were somewhat side-lined (Olive and Bronwyn I LOVE YOU) in the first novel were allowed to come into their own. They’re forced into taking risks that Miss Peregrine would never have allowed them, and in doing that, their characters are finally allowed to develop. Which, after literally living the same day over and over for eighty-odd years, is a pretty big deal.
It was particularly interesting to me, toward the end of the novel, when the children are somewhat under protection again (not for long though….), how something about it felt… off. As if they are being forced back into a box in which they no longer fit. I hope that this theme is one Riggs will have time to explore further in the final book of the series.
Obviously I can’t end this review without talking about Jacob. Despite being over main character, and the voice through which we view the story, Riggs does a really good job of not making him into a special snowflake. I suppose that is an inevitable result of being one peculiar among many.
I think what makes Jacob’s introduction into peculiar-dom so un-annoying has to do with the slow release of his ability. There is nothing obviously peculiar about him. For much of the first novel he didn’t realise he was peculiar even as he was doing it. In this book he has to try and get a handle on his ability. And he has to do it while being responsible for the lives of his friends. And then there is the whole living in the shadow of his hero grandfather thing.
Oh yeah, and his parents think he is missing or even dead, and he doesn’t see himself getting back to them any time soon.
After falling into it in pursuit of answers in the first novel, it is during Hollow City that Jacob has to really choose the peculiar life. He has to decide to sacrifice everything he knew before – his parents’ sanity even – to save this world and people he has only just discovered even existed. He has to get over his grandfather’s ghost and embrace his ability as his own, rather than seeing it as an unfortunate inheritance. He has come a long way from the self-proclaimed whiny rich kid he used to be.
If you’re looking for some fantastical escapism, the Peculiar Children series is for you.