‘Hollow City’ by Ransom Riggs is the sequel to ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,’ a unique novel constructed around a series of vintage photographs. The ‘Miss Peregrine’ books center around a modern-day teenager who stumbles on a group of peculiars, people with special abilities, whose way of life is preserved in a 1942 time loop.
Picking up after the catastrophic events of the first book, ‘Hollow City’ chronicles the group of peculiars’ race to London to save Miss Peregrine, their teacher and protector. Miss Peregrine, a shapeshifter, is injured and trapped in her bird form. The group must find the other shapeshifters in London in order to heal her before she is trapped forever. Unfortunately for them, London in 1942 is a doubly dangerous place: not only is it under siege by the Nazis, it’s also infested with wights and hollowgast. These beings are systematically capturing and experimenting on peculiars. Going to London is the only way to save Miss Peregrine — but are the peculiar children walking into a trap?
The vintage photography continues to stun in this sequel. The photographs range from chilling to charming, including such gems as a dog in a suit, pictures of a bombed-out London church, and an eerie photograph of a girl with a perfectly round hole in her stomach. At times, the story seems to flow more awkwardly around these photos than it did in ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.’ Some points felt a little more forced, jumping from episode to episode and photo to photo. Some of that is inevitable, with a journey-based plot that jumps from location to location and episode to episode. On the whole, however, the photos and plot are interwoven almost seamlessly. ‘Miss Peregrine’ wasn’t a one-off novelty. The photos create inspiration, mood, a historical aesthetic, new characters and settings, and some incredible plot twists.
The characters present a bigger challenge for the reader, and Riggs has to downsize his large cast halfway through the book in order to keep track of everyone. Luckily, the photographs help the reader keep track of who in the large group is who and what their “peculiarity” is. Riggs expertly handles a large group of characters ranging in age, maturity, abilities and personality. We also get to see the softer side of one of the nastier characters, as well as some character flaws from Emma. Apart from the main party, Riggs also finds time to introduce new side characters and time loops. Some of these characters only appear in one or a few scenes, but their presence adds a feeling of fantastical whimsy.
Even as Riggs adds more to the peculiar world, it’s always in the context of that world being under threat. ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ mixed horror elements, Nazis, and the supernatural, but ‘Hollow City’ takes a sharper turn into the dark. World War II has been on the periphery of events since the first book, but it plays a central part in ‘Hollow City.’ What with the war and the action-packed plot, ‘Hollow City’ is a more violent novel. There are also some disturbing descriptions of child abuse, namely the backstory of Emma. Another peculiar girl is also described as being so traumatized by being persecuted as a witch and left for dead that she is still unable to speak. Added to the horror elements is the revelation of what the wights and hollowgast do with all the peculiars they hunt.
The tone darkens, the body count climbs, and the stakes raise ever higher in ‘Hollow City.’ You can read the first chapter here, courtesy of the author and publisher.