Close Kin (The Hollow Kingdom, book 2), by Clare Dunkle

I was very pleasantly surprised by book 1, drugs which I purchased for a ridiculously low sum. Book 2 I had to find at the library, approved though (hey, not everyone sends me free books yet). Clare Dunkle is a librarian by trade; although she hasn’t been working as a librarian for a few years, she still loves the field. Her first books — this trilogy — were written as letters to her daughters who were in German boarding schools at the time; they have won awards (the Mythopoeic Society Award) and have been named to a ridiculous number of best-of lists. She has a Wuthering Heights prequel due out in 2010, which will probably be incredibly popular with the Twilight set (although probably better written than Twilight).

Emily is Kate’s little sister from the first volume; it’s about six years after the events of the first volume. It’s still vaguely the nineteenth century in England. A strongly elf-sided goblin, Seylin, has been a very good friend of hers since they were both children. Recently he’s been hinting around marriage, but Emily doesn’t quite get it, and when she says in a fit of pique that she will never marry him, he decides to go off on a quest to find out if there are other elves in the world. Emily, of course, once she finds out what actually happened, decides to leave and follow after him. Will either of them complete their quests?

After the first volume pleased me so much, I expected that the second book would be just as good. It wasn’t . . . quite. The opening was awfully clunky and a little disgusting by turns. I think if that would have been the start of the first volume, rather than the second, I might have given up. There was some not-quite-right dialogue (unfortunately I already returned the book, so I can’t quote them) and also a scene involving one of the main characters cutting her face. Although, again, it was definitely organic to the plot, I thought it was a bit gross and a little too much to hit me with on page four.

However, it improved greatly after that. The plight of the people that would lead the character to cut her own face was explained in a lot more detail, and I kind of got over the grossness. Not that there wasn’t a scene where that same character was butchering a deer or something, and not that the plight of those people wasn’t also unfortunate and off-putting, but at least it made sense in terms of the story. There were definitely a lot of moments that were light enough to balance out the darkness, and overall it certainly wasn’t a depressing book. By the time it ended, I actually thought that the characters (most of them, at least) were happy.

The ending did trail off a little, much like in the first book (well, dissimilar events, but a similar pacing); I figure the ending is mostly to set up the third volume of the trilogy, so it didn’t bother me too much. Ms. Dunkle has definitely set up a rich world; she develops a lot of the inter-racial relations and tension in this book. There’s definitely a fair amount of action, including actual physical movement, but even the romances in this book (which are very sweet) are in a way examples of the racial tension. Overall, I’d say it’s got some problems, but for those who enjoyed the first volume, this will be a necessary bridge to the third volume and, of course, an integral portion of the story. 3.5/5 stars.

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