So I guess it was a trilogy after all. Even though there’s absolutely no marketing as such, nothing in the titling or descriptors to indicate it, this is still a trilogy, ending with Hollow Earth: The Book of Beasts. Still by John and Carole E. Barrowman. And frankly, I am less than pleased. I think this is an example of authors who are either inexperienced, or who think their audience isn’t intelligent enough to put real effort into their plot holes and tying up loose ends. There was potential here and the books just…fall so short.
Let’s talk about the big thing. Time travel. Yes, The Book of Beasts takes place in two different times; the present and the twelve-sixties. But time travel only works in certain circumstances and you can’t have it both ways. Earlier in the series, a character thinks that they have to go back in time because they already did so. But if that’s the case, there wouldn’t be a tapestry in the present remaking its images because what was going to happen already happened.
For example, let’s look at the Dragonriders of Pern. Lord Jaxom of Ruatha rides Ruth, the white dragon, and when all the dragonriders are working together to drop the colony ships’ fuel tanks onto the Red Star in order to change its orbit, Ruth actually leads two groups back in time, where their actions cause the two Long Intervals between Thread Passes. Jaxom and Ruth have to do that, because it already happened. Time-travel is predestined because history isn’t malleable.
Now, you can have time travel where the future is changed by altering the past. But generally the future is unaware of how its changed, save for the traveler(s). So, if what the tapestry shows has changed, it has to be the person or people who went back to make the change that notice the differences, because no one else in the present would be aware of it.
Ugh, this is frustrating me and making my head hurt. And this is why I really, really hate time travel. As I keep saying, it’s so easy to screw it up, and it’s just not worth it. But that’s not the only thing I dislike about The Book of Beasts.
Really, my biggest complaint aside from time travel is that everything feels rushed and compressed. Things happen so quickly it’s hard to keep track and things don’t develop as naturally. We’re told that Em has been sneaking out at night, but we’re only shown the last time. Henrietta, the twins’ grandmother, makes her entrance in this book out of absolutely nowhere. Oh, and we never get any resolution with Sir Charles Wren and the Council that we saw at the beginning of the first book. There’s a few plot elements like that, introduced, pursued a little, then forgotten.
The story is just all over, or it spends too much time focusing on some parts and not enough on the rest. I think part of the problem could be resolved by changing the narration. Instead of a third person omniscient narrator, make it a limited perspective. If we can only get into Matt, Em, and Solon’s heads, we can’t be aware of what Henrietta, or Malcom, or any of the adults are doing away from the kids…but then we also don’t have to worry about leaving those parts of the narrative hanging because they wouldn’t exist.
On reflection, I’d say Bone Quill, the middle book of the trilogy, is probably the strongest. Which is weird, because second books tend to be the weakest, the books where authors have to get from their strong start to their epic finale and somehow fill the space. But Bone Quill benefits from having all of the excess characters and side plots stripped away, allowing readers to focus on the important events at hand. I’ve talked about how Hollow Earth was somewhat interesting, but I wouldn’t have continued the series if I didn’t already own it. Whereas Bone Quill made me actively want to continue reading, having made me much more invested in the story. Which is why The Book of Beasts is such a letdown, since I was expecting so much more.
I did say yesterday that I thought this series wasn’t a trilogy, that it would be more than three books. And maybe that would have benefitted it greatly. I’ve spoken before about how it seems so many authors are conforming to trends, which say that trilogies are a big thing at the moment and everything should be written in that format. But Hollow Earth reads more like a Saturday morning cartoon to me, something that, once you introduce the world, the heroes, and the ongoing villain, could go on for quite a while as our heroes gradually creep closer to defeating their enemy.
Now, I am not at all up to date on children’s and young adult literature, but it seems to me that such series may not be as common now as they were when I was young. I remember reading series like Animorphs that built up over dozens of books and then had spinoffs and prequels and all sorts of extra volumes. I remember series like The Boxcar Children where each book was a new mystery to solve that might or might not relate back to any of the previous books. Little Critter. Jewel Kingdom. Saddle Club. Babysitter’s Club. The list goes on. And like I said, I don’t look at those kind of books too often, so I really don’t know what is or isn’t out there right now. But I think that could have worked to Hollow Earth‘s strengths while the trilogy emphasizes its weaknesses.
I’m not certain what’s next. There’s more young adult on my shelf, but I think I’m going to avoid it on principle for the moment. I’d really rather not read another disappointment next. The easy way to avoid it is to reread something I love, but who knows. Maybe I’ll decide to take a chance anyway.