BOOK: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Book 2) by Ransom Riggs (2014)

hollowcityThis novel, the sequel to Riggs’ super-creative but slightly underwhelming 2011 novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, was as entertaining as the first book, but unfortunately also as problematic.

The story starts up where Peregrine left off — Miss Peregrine’s home for wayward “peculiars” (children with magical abilities) has just been bombed, and our intrepid heroes, a set of youths ranging in age from baby to teen, are on the run.  Miss Peregrine herself is trapped in bird form, leaving the kids on the loose, running from monsters, with no adult to guide them.

Desperate for help, Jacob, Emma, and the others head out in search for other peculiars who might be able to help them — particularly to help restore Miss Peregrine to her human body before she is stuck as a bird forever.  Their journey takes them through every kind of terrain there is: on trains, on boats, through forests and the Blitzed streets of London, and more, traveling through a range of time loops, encountering a range of characters.

The story in the sequel was more engaging than the one in the original — for me, anyway.  The characters all knew each other this time around (in the first book, Jacob was an outsider coming in, and the focus was mostly on him), which lent itself to deeper explorations of their selves and their relationships.  But the gimmick gave me the same issues; the inspiration for both these novels is a set of old (real) photographs the author has collected over the years in which tricks with light and exposure have resulted in various oddities: a boy with no feet, a girl who appears to be floating, an object dangling in open space suggesting an invisible person at play, that kind of thing. It’s such a great, creative, clever idea — but it’s unfortunately overused to the point of incoherence in both novels. In this one in particular, it didn’t take long before I started to feel like Riggs had begun with a stack of pictures he desperately wanted to work in, but which he increasingly realized didn’t quite fit with the story.  Instead of letting them go, though, he simply had characters appear and disappear out of the blue, serving no real plot purpose, just to provide the excuse to share the nifty pics with his readers.

It reminded me of a writing exercise I used to do in high school where the teacher would give us a list of 10 random words and tell us to write a short story that incorporated them all. Invariably, this results in at least 1 or 2 places, sometimes more, where you introduce a concept you never would’ve put in there had it not been for the requirement to make it work.  This type of exercise never — NEVER! — results in a brilliant piece of writing.  It’s an exercise — it’s not meant to create a final product.

But that’s the part I think Riggs hasn’t quite caught on to.  Great idea, but you have to be incredibly careful with the execution or else what you end up with is a story about a kid named Roger who finds the bones of a dinosaur (which he names a “thesaurus flex”) buried deep in the earth, tucked inside a Styrofoam cup (at least, this is the story I ended up with when I was asked to write a tale that included the words “thesaurus,” “flex,” and “Styrofoam,” among others).

Still, despite the occasional distraction of the gimmick, I enjoyed both these novels and am definitely game for what looks like it’ll be a third (the second certainly sets us up well for a third, anyway). Even if you end up not digging the stories, the photographs themselves are fascinating, making the first one well worth a peek if you haven’t already checked it out.  Sort of recommended?  I guess?  Sure, why not.


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