The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson: Mysteries and monsters
3rd book in the Wingfeather Saga
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 9.5/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): small
Age level: 12 and up
Having traversed the Dark Sea of Darkness, Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli Wingfeather must deal with the new trials of life in the Green Hollows, one of the few remaining kingdoms that resist the iron-fisted oppression of the evil Gnag the Nameless, and home to the burly Hollowsfolk (who like dogs, fighting, and eating fruit). However, life in the Hollows is not as simple as it at first seems—the Hollowsfolk are hostile to Kalmar, who, due to a tragic series of events in the previous book, now has the appearance of a Fang (a warrior of Gnag). Furthermore, mysterious monsters called “cloven” prowl the edges of the bordering Blackwood, and a series of mysterious events begins to suggest that something may be amiss in the Hollows…
Incorporating significant elements of mystery and subterfuge, along with several intriguing plot twists, The Monster in the Hollows deals with themes of loyalty, family, and sacrifice in a skillful manner that will leave readers wanting more. This book combines the quirky humor of the previous books in the series with an even deeper grounding in the series’ serious themes and may be better for a slightly older age range. Regardless, The Monster in the Hollows is an excellent and engaging story and certainly worth a read.
The plot of this book gets off to a bit slower start than that of the previous book, as the Wingfeather family (formerly the Igibys) gets settled in the Hollows and Peterson (figuratively) “shows the reader around” a new section of Aerwiar, his fictional world. However, tension soon builds in a number of areas as Kalmar and Janner encounter hostility in school/training, Janner deals with his duty to protect Kalmar as an older brother, and mysterious events start occurring. Once the plot gets fully underway, it proceeds along several intertwined plotlines and areas of action that converge at the end of the story in a cluster of betrayals, revelations, and plot twists that are inordinately satisfying, especially for lovers of mystery stories.
The plot of this story is based more on mystery than the two previous books; however, there are also many instances of action and battle similar to those in the rest of the series, although the quest-motif from North! or Be Eaten does not appear in this book. Deriving its strength primarily from uncertainty, tension, and plot twists, the plot of The Monster in the Hollows is certainly engaging and merits an 8/10 rating.
As always, Peterson does an outstanding job of populating his fictional world with creative yet realistic characters that manage to be simultaneously funny and profound. The Monster in the Hollows introduces several new characters, among them Rudric, the brawny leader of the Hollowsfolk, and Bonifer Squoon, an ancient scholar and friend of the Wingfeathers. Not only are these—and all the other characters—believable and enjoyable to read about, but they also do an excellent job of setting up the mysteries and plot twists which recur throughout this book, both through their actions and through their (often concealed) motives.
Peterson’s characters are quite funny: Oskar Reteep the librarian appears again (still speaking nearly entirely in quotes), and other characters laugh, joke, and jibe frequently. Nevertheless, Peterson also manages to communicate surprisingly deep (given the books’ often-lighthearted tone) themes of loyalty, honor, and sacrifice through these same characters, lending them an interesting form of complexity not often seen in other works.
While this book contains a style and difficulty level of writing similar to that of the previous two books (largely straightforward conflict, no overly flowery descriptive language, easy-to-recognize characters), it is somewhat longer than the series’ other books, and furthermore treats themes that run a bit deeper than those in the previous books. Overall, The Monster in the Hollows merits a 4.5/10 on difficulty and is a slightly more difficult read (but not overly so) than the previous two books.
Quality of writing
The Monster in the Hollows, like Peterson’s other books, has a unique blend of quirky— at times ridiculous— humor and serious thematic grounding. Drawing from a decidedly Christian background, his writing explores both the lighthearted and the more profound aspects of his fictional world of Aerwiar and its inhabitants. While these elements occur throughout all Peterson’s books, The Monster in the Hollows has a bit more deep investigation of some themes like sacrifice and redemption, and is overall very meaningful in this regard.
Style-wise, Peterson’s style is as unique as his world-building, incorporating descriptive and metaphorical passages in ways that seem “just right” and serve to vibrantly illustrate his points without seeming overblown or unnatural. Furthermore, his overall layout of the story is satisfying and builds to a pleasing conclusion that, while it answers the questions brought up in this book, raises still more for the next book. (9.5/10)
This book is similar to the previous two in terms of concerning content: no problematic sexual content or language, first off. With regard to violence, there are certainly fights and wounds, but Peterson does not dwell on these unnecessarily, although wounds are perhaps slightly more frequent than in the first two books in the series. This book does also contain several monsters, including the beast-like Fangs and the bizarre cloven, which might be scary for younger readers. Overall, however, beyond any concerns over the occasional battle or wound (which, I would argue, are necessary to the plot), The Monster in the Hollows does not present any major concerns for readers in the intended age range.
I chose to recommend this book for ages 12 and up, not because of problematic, graphic, or concerning content, but because the themes it treats are somewhat deeper and emotionally profound than those in the previous two books (although in general scope they are, admittedly, similar). Furthermore, this recommendation is, as in all my reviews, just that—a recommendation. Note that this doesn’t mean “absolutely no readers under the age of twelve can read this book without suffering extreme and immediate trauma;” rather, it’s merely a gentle suggestion that The Monster in the Hollows may require a little more consideration before having very young readers read it, and that its overall tone and themes may perhaps be better for a slightly older age range. (My age recommendations go in increments of two years, so “12 and up” was simply the next older step.) Overall, this is a great book and I highly recommend it; its themes are just a bit more deep than those in the previous two books. As always, I recommend parents read the book, if possible, before giving it to their children so they can exercise their own judgement on this.
A new edition of the Wingfeather Saga is being released for 2020! The books include new illustrations by Joe Sutphin as well as new cover art. Additionally, all four books are now in hardcover! This is the perfect chance to check out this excellent series, if you haven’t already. Pre-order at https://store.rabbitroom.com/collections/the-wingfeather-saga