Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Beyond the Hub Hollow Earth: The Trilogy Review inc., The Book of Beasts (MILD SPOILERS)

Hollow Earth: The Trilogy Review
By DJ Forrest


The first Hollow Earth story began in earnest with Brother Renard, a tired old monk who lived in the monastery on Era Mina, who after concentrating on a griffin he’d painted onto parchment, let his quill fall from his hands as he fell asleep.  Using this opportune moment, the griffin made a bolt for freedom but as his wing caught the monk’s finger, the old monk awoke and slammed his fist onto the tail of the mythical creature he had conjured up, preventing it from leaving the paper.  Retrieving his quill he forced the griffin to hold the letter G and remain on the page.  This was our first insight into ‘The Book of Beasts’.  It was also our first insight into the young apprentice monk Solon, who would be our guide in the Middle Ages.

In present day we are introduced to the main characters of the story, Matt and Emily Calder (Em for short) who are 12 year old twins with one thing in common, well two. One, they’re twins, with the ability to communicate through telepathy when they don’t wish others to hear them, and secondly, they’re Animares with the ability of entering any painting by conjuring up an image on any surface and using it to their advantage.  Pretty much in the way every child wishes they could do to get themselves out of trouble!!!

Matt is six minutes older than his sister Emily, and regularly reminds her of that.  He’s an impatient young man and doesn’t like to be ‘kept in the dark’ and he gets bored very quickly.  Emily is quieter than her brother; she communicates easier through telepathy, and is emotionally weaker at the start.  She’s bothered by night terrors and one in particular has her scared out of her wits.  Something is following her and has been since London.

They live with their Mum Sandie, a young 30 something, single parent, who is an artist but also works as an artist restorer for national and international galleries all over the world. Sandie was born and bred in Scotland and typical of her Celtic heritage has thick curly fair hair and is incredibly freckly.  Despite this description of her character I could only see Joely Richardson in my head. 

Sandie had been married to Malcolm Calder, and had bore him two children which didn’t go down too well with the Council of Guardians, who knew that children born from an Animare and a Guardian were Hybrids and extremely dangerous.  Although some believed with careful nurturing they could be controlled, others believed that binding was the only option.  However, it was against the rules to bind children.

During a ten minute break at the National Gallery while their Mum Sandie was busy with ‘work’, Matt and Em began to draw themselves into the painting of the Bathers of Asnières, until glancing up at the sky that didn’t exist, Em and Matt found themselves sopping wet on the floor of the Gallery.  It was to be the start of an adventure that would see the children and their Mum fleeing London to the safe haven of the Scottish Isle of Auchinmurn.  The Abbey that had begun its life as a fortress before becoming home for a community of monks in the early Middle Ages and a modern place of learning in the 21st century that was also home for the Calder family.

Sandie is reunited with her father in law Mason Renard Calder and the friends she has known since university Simon Butler and Mara Lin.  Simon Butler is a 30 something ex footballer with a dodgy knee; he has a deaf son called Zach who has lived at the Abbey since he was a mere toddler. Simon lives and works at the Abbey, is extremely good with computers and in my head, the only person I saw wearing shorts in this role was John Barrowman.

Mason Renard Calder the twin’s grandfather is an old but powerful man, who has links with the island and the monastery of Era Mina.  He seems practically untouchable by the Council and he is fiercely protective of his family and of the island.  So much so that with help from his daughter in law, he bound his only son Malcolm into a painting and stored it in the vaults at the Abbey for safe keeping.  The only person I pictured in this role was Billy Connolly and this image lasted throughout the entire trilogy.

Mara Lin reminded Em Calder of a Native American princess with her dark black hair and her wide hazel eyes.  An artist in residence at the Abbey, Mara was a very mysterious young woman who once loved Malcolm Calder, she was extremely jealous of Sandie Calder and it was difficult at times to gauge her allegiance.  I could see a mixture of Thandie Newton and Tuppence Middleton for this character image.

Although Malcolm Calder only appears in memories and flashbacks, in this novel, the only person I could see as this character in my head was Sean Harris. 

Taking care of the Abbey and the people who lived there is Jeannie the housekeeper.  Jeannie has a strong connection with the Scottish isle of Auchinmurn and indeed the Isle of Era Mina.  In my mind I pictured her as a cross between a slim Peggy Mount and Pat Coombs in nature and temperament, clad in the garb of the 1950’s housekeeper.  I couldn’t help but love Jeannie and I feel I’ve always known her, right through my own childhood.

I couldn’t picture characters for the children or for Zach but I could imagine their emotions quite easily.

There was intrigue and danger afoot in the first novel.  Members of the reformed Hollow Earth Society who wanted to ‘retrieve the monsters, control them and unleash them on the world’, were planning on using the twins to free Malcolm Calder from the painting where he was bound and locate the entrance to Hollow Earth.  Thankfully their plans were thwarted due to the appearance of the white peryton, conjured by an old monk from the Middle Ages, but at what cost to the old man’s health, and at what cost to the island of Era Mina and the world of Animare’s was yet to unfold.  And worse still, Sandie Calder was missing...


The Second Novel: Bone Quill delved deeper into the Middle Ages than the previous novel and told us a lot more about the 15 year old apprentice monk, Solon, and his life in the monastery on the Isle of Era Mina.  It also told us more about the Book of Beasts that the old monk was working upon, his life’s work, and involved Solon to go on many quests for him and especially for other monks, desperate for the boy to be away in order for them to locate something precious. 

A travel through history books can seem boring to most, but the author kept the reader steady without heavily bogging them down with facts and detail of the setting, clothing and condition of the lands and the dwellings.  In the second novel, the twins were in search of their mum, and the truth about their Dad.  And Matt was determined to find them both.
It’s difficult not to give too much away regarding this novel but the upshot of the story is very much based in the Middle Ages, with the children searching for their Mum, Solon discovering the twins, a Viking invasion on the Isle of Era Mina, Solon discovering a fiery young Norse girl, by the name of Carik, a Guardian with the skill of archery and the good sense to appear dead when being hunted by the bog monster living in Solon’s cave, and Matt finding the painting holding his Dad and releasing him, into the Middle Ages in a bid to find his Mum and sister, unaware that his Dad was exactly where he needed to be.

Unbinding his Dad, Matt had caused a dangerous rift in time, (where have we heard that before?), and his Dad is not how he imagined him to be, but given he was bound into a painting for 10 years, was likely to take its toll, but the man was not forgiving in his quest for the Bone Quill and the location of the Book of Beasts. 
The deeper into the story we go, the darker the hooded figure becomes, and it’s a race for the twins and their mother to get back to modern times before the hell hounds track them down.
It falls to a familiar house keeper to travel to the Middle Ages and use all of her powers to stop the secrets of the Isle escaping into the present day world.  But can she do it in time to save the family that she loves?


The third and final instalment of the Hollow Earth novels ‘The Book of Beasts’ saw us on the craggy hillside of Era Mina in 1848, and if you’ve been following the story so far, you’ll know that this is the year that Duncan Fox founds The Hollow Earth Society. 
As with the last two novels we have an introduction and catch-up of the story so far, which allows us to go forward without having to pull out the previous book and familiarise ourselves with the characters.

I have to admit I’d forgotten about Carik in the Bone Quill due to the extent of the adventure and so much happening within the pages. In this third instalment I saw a face for Carik, although the actual face of Solon is based on a monk from a long ago drama of whose name evades me, but doesn’t look too dissimilar to a younger version of Pete Postlethwaite. I saw Carik as Persephone Swales-Dawson. 

The Book of Beasts began at a steady pace and never dipped once, although I admit to a little confusion about Carik but that was my fault, I’d plum forgotten she existed.

The protection of the Book of Beasts rests solely upon Solon’s shoulders.  Still in the Middle Ages, which I imagined to be dark and depressing as I never saw daylight as I read it, whereas the passages involving present day was always bathed in sunlight. Strange.

The battle to protect the book and the secrets of the Isle involve a lot of people, and most you’ve already read about in the previous two books, short of a few Avada Kedavra’s and flashes of wands, and darting about on broomsticks, The Hollow Earth trilogy is as action packed as the final onslaught at Hogwarts, with everything happening and mystical beasts, and lots of conjuring.

Yet it was a delightful journey, delightful and ever so scary in places, and painful to read given the punishment certain characters were enduring.  It was full of history from the Middle Ages and all the questions you had in the previous two books will be answered in the final, and I had a lot of questions!!!

Having watched enough scary monster films in my time, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine what the dark figure looked like beneath the hooded cloak.  It wasn’t too difficult either to imagine the creatures it conjured up stalking across the beach.  There were a lot of other kinds of conjuring that occurred that to tell you would only spoil it, but if you were ever in trouble and you needed to escape you’d really wish you had the gift of an Animare to achieve it.

When John and Carole E Barrowman thought up this story I wonder if they ever imagined how popular the stories would become and just how many adults would read their books given that they’re for children!!!

They’ve been a pleasure to read, and the best thing about these books are that, just like the Famous Five, and Harry Potter novels, knowing that you’re aware of the ending, you’ll never grow tired of re-reading them. 

Thank you John and Carole, now please if JK Rowling can write more Harry Potter, I’m sure you can conjure up another Matt and Em story, involving Jeannie, and The Abbey family! (cue the all too familiar theme tune and clicks fingers).


Hollow Earth ISBN 978-1-907151-64-4

Bone Quill ISBN 978-1-78055-031-2

The Book of Beasts ISBN 9781781856352

Available online and in all good book shops 


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