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!