Weird Kids in a Weird World: Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs

Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a runaway success when it was released in 2011. Combining vintage photographs, time traveling adventures, and “Edward Gorey-like Victorian weirdness,” Miss Peregrine introduced a world where the past is never past and even ex-sideshow freaks can find a home.

The book’s success has inspired a film adaptation—written by Jane Goldman of X-Men: First Class fame, directed by Tim Burton, and slotted for release in Summer 2015—and two sequel novels, including this January’s Hollow City. Like its predecessor, Hollow City revels in the weird. Despite drawing its readers into an already familiar world, this sequel has plenty of new nooks, crannies, and photographs to explore.

Hollow City begins within minutes of Miss Peregrine’s close. When the evil wights compromise Miss Peregrine’s time loop, the peculiar children are forced out of their safe, repetitive lives and back into the real world of 1940s England. With air raid sirens ringing and the threat of enemies both human and otherworldly at their backs, Jacob leads his uncanny pack away from one danger and into another. Not only do the children stand out (what with their inhuman strength and stomachs full of bees, among other peculiarities), they don’t know the first thing about navigating the war torn world they’re entering—least of all Jacob, a twenty-first century boy, very much out of his time.

The children spend a great deal of their adventure gaining independence and learning to work together. At the end of the previous novel, the wights permanently transformed Miss Peregrine into her bird form, leaving them without direction or guidance. Their quest to return her to her human self takes them throughout England, from the bellies of giants to the heart of St. Paul’s cathedral in London. They have plenty of help, of course, from the new friends they gather along the way. Hollow City introduces a whole new cast of human characters—both peculiar and non-peculiar—and it also reveals the existence of peculiar animals, making Riggs’ world all the more uncanny (and adorable).

Addison Ransom Riggs Hollow City

Addison MacHenry, a peculiar dog

As the children’s insular lives expand, they’re forced into confronting their otherness. They don’t just have to hide themselves from the wights and hollows—they must navigate society at large, the very world that deemed them “peculiar” in the first place. We even get to see peculiars at work in an actual sideshow act, one of the more clever ways they’ve found to hide among the “normals.” With the loss of Miss Peregrine and her time loop, Jacob and the peculiar children lost their homes and their sense of normalcy (not to mention their perpetual childhoods). Their quest to save their guardian is as much a quest for belonging as it is to save the world.

And the children’s world isn’t the only one that’s expanding. The book itself begins to grapple with some really interesting themes and historical questions. Riggs had already begun to build parallels between World War II and the war of the peculiars in Miss Peregrine; with the children struggling to exist in a society that fears and despises them in Hollow City, these parallels become much more prominent. A relatively large portion of the novel is dedicated to the children’s developing friendship with a group of Roma (called “gypsies” in the novel), who parallel Jacob and the others as they attempt to escape the grasp of evil forces disguised as human law enforcement. Riggs even invokes Nazi experimentation when he reveals that the wights had attempted to extract the souls of a couple of unlucky peculiars in order to gain their powers.

Though I loved exploring the expanding world of Hollow City, the novel did have a slow quality to it. It really felt like a middle novel meant to connect the wondrous introduction of Miss Peregrine to the inevitably world-shattering third novel due out next year. Its slow start, plodding traveling, and gradual world building made for an experience not unlike reading the camping scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The fights and moments of discovery were exciting and fast-paced but didn’t have a lot of narrative connection. Instead, each scene stacked on top of the next with only the quest to help Miss Peregrine linking them to the larger story.

The development of the characters and their relationships for the most part makes up for how slowly the novel moves. Emma and Jacob’s relationship is cute where it could easily have become annoying. The new characters—like Esme and Sam, two little girls trapped in their home during a German shelling—didn’t always drive the story forward, but they were never boring and always left the children more conflicted about their journey than they had been before.

Like the first novel in the Peculiar Children series, Hollow City makes reading a physical act of discovery through its incorporation of vintage photographs throughout the story. It could, of course, be read on a kindle or a computer—but the experience of the reader holding the photographs mirrors the characters doing just the same thing. In a way, you see what Jacob sees, and you discover clues piece by piece alongside him. It’s a fun and bizarre way to read. So, if you liked Miss Peregrine, I’d definitely encourage you to check out Hollow City—if not for the peculiar dog, World War II parallels, and weird pictures, than to prepare for what is sure to be a thrilling climax in the last book of the series. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the twist at the end of Hollow City makes me very eager to find out what happens next.

Hollow City is published by Quirk Books.

Emily Nordling is a writer and activist living in Chicago, IL. She thrives primarily on tea, books, and justice.


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