MMGM and #IMWAYR (3/8/2021): Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I realize it's a bit late, but I want to condemn the recent increases in violence against Asian-Americans and remind everyone to keep on educating themselves as much as their emotional state can allow them to tolerate.

Also, I want to mention that, at least on #IMWAYR if not MMGM, it sounds like literally every blogger had a terrible week last week. I know that staying hopeful and energized has been difficult for me recently, and I can imagine it has been a similar struggle for others, so I want to empathize with everyone for how awful everything is (both on a global and personal level), thank everyone for putting up their posts every week (which is definitely a little constant source of joy in my life), and hope to bring a little joy to your lives with today's posts!

With that, we can move into the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning book reviewing with a recommendation of Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.

I am proud to announce that this review has no major spoilers of the previous books in this series! There are a few very minor spoilers, but I have managed to avoid pretty much all of the major twists and even the obvious endings from books 1 and 2, so you should be fine to read on even if you haven't dipped your toes into this series yet.

          If you aren't aware, the Nevermoor books by Jessica Townsend are basically the new big series in MG fantasy. There was a bidding war for the first batch of books, she's already sold the rights through book 6, a movie was planned before the first book even came out, and the series was temporarily listed on the NYT Children's Series bestseller list (which has books like Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Hunger Games on it). These books are A Big Deal. And for good reason, too—the first two books, Nevermoor and Wundersmith, are immensely fun and immensely well-executed, packing in a lot of substance and wit considering their broad appeal. The newest book, Hollowpox, came out this past October, but because I am hopelessly behind on reading, I am only managing to get it reviewed now. And I also made the awful, awful, awful mistake of waiting too long between reading it and writing my review, so forgive me if the following is a mess.

          Summary time! The general gist of this series is a bit similar to Harry Potter: Morrigan Crow, an unloved and cursed child, is whisked away from her awful life into a world of magic, magical schools, and (of course) enormous levels of danger that she gets caught up in quite frequently. In this book, Morrigan has finally been presented with the opportunity to hone her unique and highly-stigmatized talent. Morrigan's thirst for learning is strong, but she'll have to keep it in check if she wants to have any mental space to deal with the other issue: the city of Nevermoor's pandemic. (You read that right.) A mysterious illness known as the Hollowpox is infecting Nevermoor's Wunimals (basically magical talking animals) and transforming them into angry, dangerous Unnimals. As the Hollowpox upends Nevermoor, it (shockingly enough) falls to Morrigan to save the day...but a fairy-tale-perfect ending might be more than even Morrigan Crow can pull off.

          I've been burned by fantasy series that fall apart before, so I was definitely a bit wary of Hollowpox. But luckily, Jessica Townsend's talent is enormous, and she clearly has an idea of where the series is going and how Hollowpox helps it get there, ensuring that this book is a worthy addition to the series! First of all, I've been thinking after some past book reviews about the ways that White authors have attempted recently to tackle the idea of prejudice. Townsend has definitely taken it upon herself here to step out of the typical escapist-fantasy zone and acknowledge some of the horrors of the real world. And talk about killing two birds with one stone—we have a pandemic that literally only infects one race of people. Sounds fun (not). Townsend's depiction of how the Hollowpox ravages Nevermoor is startlingly similar to the real world—there's dramatic increases in prejudice against Wunimals, people end up stuck inside for a short time to avoid getting sicker, and there's even some moments where characters, frustrated by the government's lack of inaction, consider, you know, storming the Parliament. (This book came out in October, so apparently Townsend just has some kind of horrific psychic sense.) I'm not going to lie—the Hollowpox isn't fun to read about. But I am also impressed to see an author taking some of the awfulness of the real world and presenting it in a manageable way to young readers who generally prefer escapist books and might not be getting much of an education about real-world issues. That isn't to say that this book captures any of the nuances of race itself, or that it is a substitute for authors of color writing about their experiences, but it is still a powerful work in its own right.

          So, with that in mind, is Hollowpox a fun read? The answer is...sometimes! When we're talking about the stuff above, well...no. It's not. But luckily, Townsend's imagination runs just as wild in Hollowpox as it ever has, and there's plenty of delightful worldbuilding and characters to be had here! I really don't want to say too much, but there's a new place in Nevermoor that is so absolutely crazy and genius and awesome that it could really only have come straight out of the mind of Jessica Townsend (and that is the utmost of compliments). The Hotel Deucalion, where Morrigan Crow resides with her patron/the hotel proprietor Jupiter North, remains as sentient, inventive, and Tuesdays-at-the-Castle-esque as ever, at one point creating an entire frozen lake for ice-skating inside of the building! Jupiter himself remains as dashing and composed yet ready to tear out his hair or chew his fingernails hearing about Morrigan's latest unnerving exploits as he has ever been. And there's plenty of entertaining dynamics between Morrigan and Jupiter, her friends, or some of the new people who help her learn her talent, ensuring some laugh-out-loud moments and enough lightheartedness to keep you going! Townsend's relatively-excellent attention to pacing (this book is a bit slow at times, but not that much longer/slower than the others) and truly fantastic writing and worldbuilding cement her status as a new Queen of MG.

          And then there's Morrigan. Morrigan, Morrigan, completely-lacking-in-any-describable-personality-traits Morrigan. Seriously, try to describe her. She's kind of a little bit sarcastic...sometimes? She's brave...I think? If they ever actually let her talk instead of just listening to her friends talk like she's still the deer-in-the-headlights new girl in town from book 1, maybe she would have more traits. The Morrigan Crow books are far from the first mainstream fantasy series to create a protagonist so relatable to every possible reader under the sun that the protagonist lacks individuality, but considering the levels of talent Townsend brings to every single spot in this book besides Morrigan, it is somewhat startling (at least to me) how little I actually care about Morrigan. It's a shame, because I'm already invested in the outcome of these books, but that only makes me think about how much more I would be invested if I had an emotional connection to Morrigan. I will say that things do get more interesting with Morrigan in this book. Some of her past trauma resurfaces and gets worked through, her relationship with Jupiter develops a little bit, and her thirst for knowledge about her talent starts to consume her in startling ways. But I guess what's missing is the bits that make me actually like Morrigan. She's deep, but I wouldn't look at her and think, "Wow, I want to be her friend" or "Wow, I see myself in her." And though her depths seem set to expand greatly after the ABSOLUTELY CRAZY (!!!!!) ending of the book, I'm less confident that I will become invested in her in the way I am in the protagonists of the realistic fiction I usually read.

          Hollowpox is not a perfect book, by any means. It falls prey to the same kinds of protagonist issues that series like Harry Potter had, and its attempts to reconcile escapist fantasy with the pain of the real world sometimes hit a bit too close to home. But there is still so, so, so much to like about Hollowpox! Townsend's creativity and writing talent is on full display, as is her ability to thread complex plots and create really impressive and meaningful plot developments in every book, rather than fearing the end of the series and pushing the plot developments to the next book, then the next, then the next... Hollowpox is a worthy addition to the Morrigan Crow books, and considering the ABSOLUTELY CRAZY ending, I really cannot imagine how much there will be to talk about and dissect in book 4!

My rating is: Really good!



Comments

  1. This sounds interesting, but ... yeah, maybe a little too close to reality right now! Oddly, I ended up reading a few books about fictional pandemics and plagues last year! It's best if they're not too close to reality :)

    Sounds like a good book - thanks for the review! Hope this week is better for you -

    Sue

    Book By Book

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    1. I remember reading about those on your blog! I was honestly impressed with your fortitude reading those. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  2. How did I not hear of this book? It sounds right up my ally. I just reserved it at the library. Hope you have a better week.

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    1. I'm so glad this book sounds good to you! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. This is a thoughtful and in-depth review! I am always on the lookout for new fantasies and will give it a try. :)

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    1. Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the series, and I appreciate you stopping by!

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  4. You write great reviews & it's fun to read about this series though I doubt I will ever get to it. But what I will do is tell people like former colleagues where I taught about it. They are always looking for new ones to recommend. Thanks!

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    1. I definitely understand—there's so little time and so many books! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  5. I haven't read the series -- don't know why. But, I do love superb world building! Your review is enticing. Thanks for sharing today!

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    1. The world building here is definitely a plus! Townsend is good about layering details in to make you feel immersed instead of drowning you in a bunch of irrelevant detail. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  6. The #imwayr posts have always brought me joy, but I'm so grateful for these connections even more now. This series has been on my radar, but I never got around to reading book one. Didn't realize there was already a third!

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    1. I joined #IMWAYR right after the pandemic started, and it has been a wonderful community to participate in during the pandemic! Townsend is definitely moving fast with the writing of these books, considering they're sizable (around 450-500 pages each). Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  7. Thank you for sharing about this series. I have been out of the loop and had not heard of it before. I immediately put Nevermoor on hold at the library. Have a great reading week!

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    1. No problem! It's always strange how some books are ones I hear about all the time that others have never seen, and then others are ones I have completely missed that everyone else has already read. I feel like blogging is a sort of net that I run around with, frantically trying to catch books before they fall through the cracks! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  8. I keep coming across this series but have yet to get started reading. Your featured review today on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday has me intrigued even more. The characters and world building are what stands out for me. I hope to find time early summer to give this one a go.

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    1. These books are somewhat lengthy, so carving out time for them sounds like a good idea! Townsend has crafted a very impressive world in these books. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  9. I am a hardcore fan of Nevermoor. It is such a brilliant series. I am waiting for the fourth. Hopefully it will be published soon, although it has no name. I read that she is planning for 9 novels. Hurrah!

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    1. I'll be looking forward to book 4 as well! I heard that she does have ideas for 9 novels, and considering she's already sold 6, I would imagine she might get all 9 written eventually! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  10. Don't you hate it when you make the awful mistake of waiting too long after reading a book to write your review? I feel like kicking myself whenever I do that! Of course, my reviews aren't as long and thorough as yours! I'm fascinated that this book hits so close to home, with a pandemic, people stuck inside, an increase in prejudice against certain people, and others thinking of storming Parliament, etc. The author does seem psychic!

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    1. I really have to write my reviews immediately or I completely forget everything that happened. Though perhaps if I can't remember the book later, it wasn't very good to begin with and didn't deserve a fantastic review! I imagine Townsend must have written at least some of this during the pandemic, because I really can't fathom her being so spot-on otherwise—but it came out in October, so maybe she was just psychic! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  11. I haven't read any of this series. I'm not much of a fantasy reader and, in fact, I haven't even read the Harry Potter series. Only book one. That said, I have lots of fantasy readers in my family, so it's good to know about this. Thanks for your very thorough review.

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    1. I'm not much of a fantasy reader either, but once I start a series, I do get engrossed! I probably wouldn't have tried these books if one of my family members hadn't given me book 1 as a gift. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  12. Totally agree with you on this weekly meme being a source of joy. I always look forward to catching up with everyone. Not only do I look forward to seeing what everyone's reading, but the little tidbits about work, family, or life in general feel like such a kindness! While I'm connected to many Kidlit #imwayr group members through Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, and just recently on Facebook, the root of those connections seem to be these weekly blog posts.

    Really enjoyed your review today. HUGE Nevermoor fan here!! It's so clever and quirky and I never want each book to end. As it often seems with books not originating in the states, this series seemed to have a somewhat late integration into the US. But it's definitely taking hold now that book #3 is out. I just get that amazing feeling inside when I'm reading Townsend's writing and I keep the series on the tiny bookshelf right next to where I sleep. Clearly it would fall into my personal 'stunning' category and I can't wait for book #4 -- even a title would be nice, at this point. But oh yeah, so eerie to have a pandemic in this book (and also in Kenneth Oppel's Overthrow series where book #1 started off with the US blaming China, there’s no toilet paper, and people begin wearing masks... published in March 2020 😲) Great review and I hope you have a great reading week!

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    1. I'm so glad you're such a big fan of this series!!! I definitely expect, once the Nevermoor movie comes out, people will be buying these books in DROVES. I didn't realize the books by Kenneth Oppel were also quite so similar to real life as well—yikes! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  13. I know Shaye has enjoyed this series and I've been meaning to get the first book and try it. I haven't been reading a lot anyway this year, and I definitely haven't been reading MG since I need to have YA to recommend to my students. But I miss it! I wonder how the series is on audio.

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    1. I tried listening to an audiobook recently and confirmed that I pretty much cannot concentrate on something I cannot see, so I can't say whether the audiobooks are good or not. Still, if you ever get a chance, this series is always a great choice in MG! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  14. I grabbed Nevermoor months ago, excited to read it, but didn’t realize it was part of a series! Do you know anything about the audio version? If it’s done half as well as the Harry Potter audiobooks, it’ll be a fun way to enjoy the books with my son. He’s sure to love this series.

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    1. Unfortunately, I'm unfamiliar with the audiobooks, since I generally can't focus unless the words are right in front of my face! I would imagine they must be pretty good, considering how much publishers want to hang on to Jessica Townsend. I hope you both enjoy the series, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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