CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 17 . . . .April 13, 2007
Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain.
Seán Cullen. Illustrations by Johann Wessels.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2007.
279 pp., cloth., $18.00.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Huai-Yang Lim.
Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.
Great Plumbers and Their Exploits sat on the table by Hamish X's elbows. He hadn't opened it in days. Before he regained his memories he'd pored over the book with rabid intensity, certain that the pages held a clue to the location of his lost mother. But since King Liam had awakened his memories he'd lost the desire to read the book. Parveen believed that Great Plumbers was part of the ODA's plans, and that since Hamish X was now free of their programming he was also free of his compulsion to read the boring book.
He laid a hand on the green leather cover, tracing the gold lettering with a fingertip. He felt a pang of loneliness. "How could I miss reading such a boring book?" he mumbled to himself.
"Are you addressing me?" The George raccoon roused itself from sleep mode at the sound of his voice. George had been standing silent and still against the wall as it always did, resting until required.
"Sorry, no. Just talking to myself."
Following on the heels of his comedic novel Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates, Sean Cullen's second book in the series, Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain, continues the adventures of Hamish X and his friends. The last book concluded with the arrival of the Orphan Disposal Agency's Grey Agents in Wind City at which time they attempted to capture Hamish X. Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain begins with Hamish X's rescue and continues with his and his friends' trek to Switzerland's Hollow Mountain, where a city for children ruled by King Liam exists. The self-sufficient and self-powered city, named Hollow City, resides in an underground cavern that has seen various improvements over the centuries and serves as a refuge and training ground for children so that they can lead productive and self-sufficient lives once they leave the city. As Hamish X and his friends become acclimatized to life in the Hollow City and wedding preparations are under way for Mr. Kipling and Mrs. Francis—both of whom were introduced in the first book—the events are overshadowed by the Grey Agents' determination to locate Hamish X at all costs and to eliminate those who stand in their way.
In contrast to the first novel, the pace of Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain is more measured and contains some slower-paced sections that may potentially turn off some readers who have been accustomed to the first novel's style. This observation is not to suggest that the novel is a less engaging read, but rather that its focus is different because of its greater attention to character development and contextual setup. Due to its open ending, it is clear that this second book is intended as a set up for Cullen's next book in the "Hamish X" series. As such, it feels more like the middle of a longer story rather than as a self-contained narrative with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end.
Whereas Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates provides a comedic rendition of the quest narrative that is more plot-driven with its colourful and quirky characters and narrative twists, Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain gives readers a more character-driven narrative that takes place in a single location. Readers who enjoyed reading Cullen's first novel will like this second novel because it fleshes out the backdrop that the first novel has only hinted at or developed briefly. As such, Mr. Kipling, Ms. Francis, Mimi, and Parveen appear again in this story, but they are less central to the story's events. Although they are important in the initial rescue of Hamish X at the beginning and in the battle against the Grey Agents in Hollow Mountain, the real focus of this story is on Hamish X and his history. Cullen's portrayal of Hamish X in the previous book is comedic and engaging because of the element of surprise and the unconventional heroics that he adds to the story's plot. In contrast, Cullen humanizes Hamish X in the second book. He portrays Hamish X as a more three-dimensional character by providing more of the back-story to his obscure past and by presenting part of the story from his point of view. As a result, more description appears when the narrative focuses on aspects such as the exploration of Hamish X's memories as well as his psychological struggles with his newfound feelings of isolation and disorientation, both of which arise from his new awareness of his difference from others and his inability to identify who he is. Readers also learn about the power of Hamish X's mysterious boots and his past experiences, information which Cullen reveals through the other characters as well as King Liam's psychological exploration of Hamish X's suppressed memories.
Through his character King Liam, Cullen also provides a few more details about the sinister origins of the Orphan Disposal Agency and the Grey Agents. The Grey Agents were only introduced in the previous book through a few brief passages. Readers now find out that the Grey Agents are using the Orphan Disposal Agency as a cover for more ominous plans, but Cullen does not elaborate and leaves readers hanging instead. Undoubtedly, more details will likely be revealed in the next book of the series.
Other noteworthy aspects that contribute to the narrative's milieu and characterization include the descriptive passages about the Hollow City's history and operation, as well as the introduction of secondary characters such as Parveen's long-lost sister Noor, with whom he reunites, and King Liam, who is portrayed as someone with admirable resilience and determination despite his physical frailty.
Recognizable elements from the first novel, such as the irreverent footnotes as well as the omniscient narrator's intermittent commentaries on the story, also appear in this novel. As with the first novel, younger readers may not necessarily understand some aspects of the book's parodic or satirical humour because they depend upon a prior knowledge of certain facts, values, or narrative conventions. However, most readers should be able to appreciate the humour and self-reflexive jabs that Cullen inserts as they remind readers that the story is constructed and that it should not be taken too seriously. For example, the narrator asks about whether the book's readers are enjoying the story so far. In another part, the narrator says, "Everything is in place for a great second section. Let's get right to it, shall we?" In a couple of footnotes, the narrator draws attention to the fact that the plot is at an exciting point after which he then states that there is no time to elaborate and that the readers should get back to the story. Readers will laugh at the narrator's arrogant assertion that he is such a great storyteller because of the great training that he has received.
As in the first book in the series, Johann Wessels' black and white illustrations complement the narrative and highlight a few important moments in the plot such as the menacing appearance of the Grey Agent's robot Teddy, the arrival of the airship to Hollow City, and the entrance of King Liam at Mr. Kipling's and Ms. Francis's wedding. Hamish X also appears in a couple of pictures.
As Hamish X gains control of his destiny, he learns from King Liam that someone may be able to help unlock his mysterious past. The last few chapters focus on the battle for Hollow Mountain between the King of Switzerland and the Grey Agents, but Hamish X is not around to witness it because he has already left the city. The book ends on a cliffhanger that will leave readers waiting eagerly for Cullen's next book. As Hamish X goes to Central Africa in search of Professor Magnus Ballantyne Stewart, readers are left wondering whether he will make it to Africa safely and find what he is looking for. They will also wonder what will happen to Mimi, Parveen, and company, whom Hamish X has left behind in the Hollow Mountain. What will happen to Parveen's sister, Noor, and will they rescue Aidan, Lieutenant of the Royal Guards in Switzerland, from the Orphan Disposal Agency's Grey Agents? The answers to these and other questions are left unresolved.
The difficulty of the language in this book is similar to the previous book of the series. As a whole, the book is suitable for readers ten and up, though younger readers may find some of the words unfamiliar. More information about Sean Cullen appears on his official website at http://www.seancullen.com/.
Huai-Yang Lim is currently pursuing a degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB.
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