I should be editing. Or researching. But I’m not (this is called procrastination). I was thinking about the entire genre called fantasy, for reasons – well, maybe I’ll say at the end. Thinking of all the books I’ve loved over the years, some well known, some not. So over a series of blog posts, I’m going to talk about some of those books and authors, indie and traditionally published. In no order, except that in which they appear in my head.
Hollo, by indie author Devon Michael, was the first one to come to mind. I read it several years ago, in 2016, but it’s stuck in my head, both for the premise and the quality of the writing.
“There was a pool of darkness in the midst of the light, where the wind had come in accompanied 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.”
Here’s what I said in my review:
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.’
There was both an intimacy and a universality to this tale: no huge world-changing events, except for Hollo herself. Maybe that’s why I remember it, because it was so personal, and yet more.
I understand there’s a second edition of Hollo available soon. I’d recommend it.
P.S: As to why I was thinking about fantasy? I had my participation in two local events turned down, one because my books are fantasy, and one because they’re not. (Same books.) So it got me thinking about all the books I’ve read over the years that are classified as fantasy, and what that term does and doesn’t mean to various people. The upshot is I get to revisit my favourites, so that’s a bonus.