Buster Books, p/b, £6.99
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt
Fiction written by celebrities tends to make me inwardly groan; particularly when it’s written in the genre in which they act. Hollow Earth is clearly aimed at teenage fans of Torchwood and Doctor Who – this is obvious without knowing John Barrowman is one of the co-authors. However, he’s joined his creative forces with those of his sister, who is a journalist, and so I remained hopeful of a decent plot.
The story is based on a couple of key concepts: the titular ‘Hollow Earth’ and a group of people called ‘Animares’ who have ‘Guardians’ and a governing council. Obviously the formula is fairly familiar to most readers of this genre in that you’ll already have guessed the council will have split because there are differing points of view on the governance of Animares, and sinister people may be infiltrating all aspects of the group in order to obtain their nefarious goals.
The main thrust of the plot is that the twin protagonists, Matt and Emily Calder, are Animares: artists with the ability to animate their art. They are more powerful than any Animares who came before and as such, there is a group of villains intent on using the twins’ powers to breach the bounds of Hollow Earth – a place where all the devils, demons and monsters that exist in imagination are trapped.
As already mentioned, the issues around the Animares Council are predictable and unfortunately much of the characters, their development and the plot is almost rigidly formulaic throughout. Sadly, the concept of ‘Hollow Earth’ is weak and ironically is the hollowest aspect of the story; I never felt this concept was given enough backbone or detail, despite the flashbacks to the Middle Ages to the beginnings of the Animares’ history. Indeed, the flashbacks were fairly inconsequential to the development of the story and I could easily have skimmed these with little detriment to the overall plot.
However, there is much to be said for the concept of Animares and the story gained impact and quality as it developed – clearly the set-up is toward creating sequels and a possible TV series, and I have to say that the latter may be where this story would thrive. I think any further books would benefit from a focus on the abilities of the twins, and how they cope with and utilize them, and the impact on their world – these aspects were by far the most interesting parts of the story. Overall, it is an enjoyable, easy read which should appeal to the audience at which it’s aimed. Older fans of John Barrowman may well be disappointed though I, for one, will be interested in reading the next installment.