By Martha Wells
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Prolific fantasy author Martha Wells ventures into young adult territory with EMILIE & THE HOLLOW WORLD, a steampunk adventure inspired by Jules Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. When Emilie runs away from home, she ends up having to stow aboard a different ship - one headed to the world inside the world to save Lady Marlende's father.
Lady Marelende's father is an inventor and explorer, but he's fallen afoul of another scientific-minded lord who wants to be the first to journey to the hollow world and back. Her only hope is Lord Engal, another rival of her father's. Oh those scientists, always wanting to be the first to publish. Of course, things go awry and the explorers must accomplish their quest before they're able to return home safely.
I loved the way Wells described the strange people and places Emilie and the others discover. She's not besmirching the legacy of Verne by any means. In fact, I'm surprised there hasn't been more steampunk that ventures into his territory. Character-wise, Kenar, a Cirathi from the hollow world, is one of my favorites. I was a little disappointed that he was already in a happy relationship and not a love interest for Emilie. Not too disappointed, however, because Emilie is supposedly sixteen but reads younger. (And her actual love interest is perfectly nice.)
Emilie was a touch underdeveloped. She's definitely the character the reader is supposed to identify with, a complete outsider who knows less than everybody else. What the reader does learn about her is positive. She stands up for herself, she knows when to keep quiet and be sneaky, and she's good at coming up with a plan on the fly. But this is an adventure story and character development is secondary. Most of the characters are exactly who they appear to be on the surface.
It works because EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD is quite an adventure. I loved learning about the different societies of the hollow world along with Emilie and watching her attempt to prevent a war. (Or, at the very least, avoid being personally involved with the war.) The second novel, EMILIE AND THE SKY WORLD, should be available from Strange Chemistry in 2014. I'm excited to follow along with Emilie's future exploits.