Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice, by Devon Michael: A Review

“There was a pool of darkness in the midst of the light, where the wind had come in Hollo The Gatecaster's Apprentice fullaccompanied by a shadow, a shadow with shoulders and a head that stretched into the lighted space on the floor at the bottom of the stairs.”

Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, of the darkest episodes of Doctor Who, of some of the madness of Tim Burton, Devon Michael’s Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice is an artfully told, dark, and frightening coming-of-age tale with a twist. Hollo, the title character and protagonist, is a puppet made of wood, but one that can think and feel and move autonomously, created by her ‘father’ Fredric. (This might remind you of Pinocchio, but it shouldn’t.)

When Hollo reaches her twelfth birthday, Fredric takes her out into the world, a place far more complex and menacing than her sheltered world of Fredric’s house and the metal-casters workshop next door. Here she first hears the name Bander-Clou, and the words ‘Zygotic Pneuma’. Just what is she? And who is her father, really?

Clock-work soldiers of metal and wood pursue her. Hollo befriends a human girl; statues come to life; elemental forces protect her. Hollo’s world is under siege, and she is caught in a larger story, one older than she but one to which she belongs, and one in which she has an integral part to play. Michaels writes fluidly and effectively, his words invoking horror, happiness, fear and joy, the pacing moving the plot along quickly, but not so quickly the world-building is overlooked. This is a well-realized and developed world, one that the author leads the reader into by hints and clues: the reader learns the world along with Hollo.

Characters are well-developed, especially Hollo, whose innocence at the beginning is lightly but effectively shown, but also the supporting cast, from the malapropistic statue ‘The Countess’ to the marvellously conceived Lightening Man. And they all have a role to play; none of these characters, some of whom would not be out of place in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, are superfluous to the story.

Hollo: The Gatecaster’s Apprentice earns a rare five stars from me. I didn’t want to put it down, and yet conversely I rationed myself as to how much I read on any day, so as to savour the book and anticipate where it was going: it was far too good to read in one gulp. One caveat: in the e-book version I read, there were a few production errors, and a few errors that slipped through editing. In several places ‘won’t’ was written as ‘wont’; the common error of ‘broach’ for ‘brooch’ appeared a few times, along with the newly-frequent (in my experience of 55 years of reading) confusion of ‘piqued’ with ‘peaked’. One’s interest is piqued (excited); one’s interest in something can ‘peak’ (reach a height). Both can be correct, but are often, these days, confused. BUT: sometimes, as I wrote here, the overall quality of a book or a movie outweighs a few production errors, and this is one of those few cases. Regardless of the (easily-corrected) errors, Hollo deserves five stars.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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