Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Hollowpox is the third in the six to nine books planned around the adventures of Morrigan Crow, written by Jessica Townsend. Each book addresses new adventures for Morrigan as she is accepted into the Wundrous Society, in Nevermoor. Only those with a special skill are taken. The first book, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, was awarded the 2018 ABIA for Book of the Year and was claimed to be the biggest-selling Australian children’s debut book since records began. These books are pure fantasy, yet in some ways relate closely to the world in 2020.
In this latest book, Hollowpox, we hear about curfews and shut-downs, being urged to stay home, and phrases like, ‘We’re all on the same side really’ (324), and ‘we just want this to be over’ (330). This situation closely mirrors that in 2020, the year of the Corona Virus. But that is about the only similarity between the world in which young teenager, Morrigan Crow, finds herself and the world of the reader. This is a book of fantasy from a very fertile mind.
Nevermoor contains many unique citizens and some of them have been targeted by a virus which after turning them into attackers leaves them empty inside, hence the name of the virus. This group is the unnimals. ‘At a distance, it is sometimes tricky to tell the difference between Wunimals (sentient, self-aware creatures who were capable of human language and fully assimilated to human society) and unnimals (normal creatures who went about their normal creature business in their normal creature societies). It was of course easier if you were looking at a Wunimal Minor – a sort of human-unnimal hybrid, usually with more humanoid features than unnimal’. Wunimal Majors were ‘physically indistinguishable from their unnimal counterparts…that is, until they open their mouths’ (69).
These books are written for children yet with their greed, temptations, fear, torment, and danger, they have much to offer the adult reader who enjoys the world of fantasy.
What I found most pleasing was the writing style employed by this author. Jessica Townsend, a young woman from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, who was once a copywriter and the editor of a children’s wildlife magazine for Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, has the skill to use multiple writing devices to enhance the storyline without overpowering it.
Word use such as bunnies and badgers (54), candy cane cocktails (54), and pallid porcelain complexion (336) resonated well with me. She has a way of describing things that add something extra to the writing, like ‘heart weighed down with spite and veins humming with righteous anger’ (332) and ‘The bubbles turned into floating rosebuds, and within seconds the bath was in full bloom – hundreds of flowers spilling out of the porcelain and onto the marble floor’ (53). Her description of the battle between Saint Nicholas and the Yule Queen (60) was breathtaking. And what a wondrous place the Hotel Deucalion is.
Each chapter has its own title with the term Hollowpox, the name of the book, introducing chapter 14. Other interesting titles include, A Carefully Manoeuvred Sequence of Events (chapter 2), Dangerous Levels of Cheer (chapter 4), The Book of Ghostly Hours (chapter 9) which is helping Morrigan understand her unique talent, Happenchance and Euphoriana (chapter 12), Book Bugs (chapter 20) – that was an exciting visit to the library, and The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (chapter 29). There are thirty-eight chapters in the book.
The previous books have been about The Trials of Morrigan Crow and The Calling of Morrigan Crow. In this latest book, Hollowpox, she is being hunted because she is a Wundersmith. Yet she believes that she is the only one who can find a cure for this dreaded virus.
In book Two, it was revealed to others in Nevermoor that Morrigan was a Wundersmith, something that had previously been hidden because of the horror or fear this name induced in others. One earlier Wundersmith, Ezra Squall, was banished from Nevermoor because of his actions. Morrigan is haunted and terrified by him. In this latest book, she is given the opportunity to enhance her skills and learn more about the previous Wundersmiths. She also faces the dilemma of whether she can trust Squall’s help to find a cure for the virus or whether she has placed herself in a trap that could end her life as she has come to know it.
This book is a beautifully written work which has much of the appeal of the Harry Potter novels making it suitable for a wide audience. Soon, these stories about the adventures of Morrigan Crow could be gracing our screens as the movie rights have been acquired by Fox to adapt and produce the fantasy story Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow. I believe these stories will be a wonderful success on the big screen.
By Jessica Townsend