The Gift of Dark Hollow

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Podkin One-Ear. You can read my review of this novel [here].

The Gift of Dark Hollow was written by Kieran Larwood and beautifully illustrated by David Wyatt. It was first published in 2017 and is the second instalment of The Five Realms series, following Podkin One-Ear (2016). Although the novel does a pretty decent job of bringing new readers up to speed, I would probably still recommend reading the books in sequence in order to fully appreciate them.

The Bard has finally decided that it is time to continue with his journey but this time he leaves with a young rabbit named Rue. Rue desires to become a Bard but the elderly rabbit knows that he cannot teach him. It would be cruel to put him at risk from the unspoken dangers that stalk him. Instead, he decides to take Rue to the Festival of Clarion in order to find him a master, and on the way he continues to tell the tale of Podkin One-Ear.

Despite being the great hero who defeated Scramashank – the monstrous chieftain of the Gorm – Podkin finds that the other rabbits of Dark Hollow refuse to take him seriously. Crom now spends all of his time in council with the other adult rabbits, while Paz has been learning the healing arts under the watchful eye of Bridgid. He feels more useless than ever, and perhaps that’s what leads him to explore the unused tunnels at the heart of the warren.

It is here that Podkin uncovers the long-lost Gift of Dark Hollow and learns the ability to Moonstride – teleport between shadows. In testing this new power, he learns the location of another Gift; one that might have the power to destroy Gorm. Taking with him a small band of his closest allies, Podkin sets out on a quest to retrieve this Gift. However, his mission will take him into the heart of a warren that has been overrun by the Gorm…

Before I begin, I feel that I should admit that I do have an ulterior motive in reviewing this book. You might remember that back in 2015, I talked about GoGoDragons! when I reviewed the first of the Sprite Sisters novels. This year, the gorgeous city of Norwich in the United Kingdom has been overrun by hares.

GoGoHares! is a countywide event that aims to raise money for Break, a local charity which supports children with learning and physical disabilities. There are fifty hare sculptures to be found across the city, all beautifully decorated by local artists, and a further eighteen “moongazer” hares to be found in towns across Norfolk.

If you want to check them out, they’ll be on display until 8th September 2018. It’s certainly well worth doing. Norwich is a wonderful historical city and the hares are a sight to behold. The hare pictured with Sobek above is called Foxy’s Tale but scroll to the bottom of this post if you want to see a few more of my favourites.

What better to commemorate this occasion than to review a tale of adventurous bunnies? If you read my review of Podkin One-Ear, you will recall that I had some pretty big issues with the novel. While it was an enjoyable read, it contained a disappointingly low-stakes climax and weak female protagonist. However, I am really pleased to say that The Gift of Dark Hollow addressed almost every issue that I had with this story, making it a much stronger read all round.

The Gift of Dark Hollow takes the time to flesh out the bigger picture. Through Podkin’s time in the safe haven of Dark Hollow and Rue’s experiences at the Festival of Clarion, we start to see a lot more about the races of rabbits that occupy the Five Realms, as well as the different tribes and orders that they have formed. From tattooed bards to skull-masked assassins, Podkin’s world is larger and more varied that I had initially thought.

Yet the novel this time goes further still. Not only do we start to see a far wider variety of rabbits, but we start to get glimpses of their culture. This is particularly evident in the different deities that they worship. Benevolent Goddess, life stealing Nixha, horned Hern the Hunter and creative Clarion. The kinds of god honoured by the rabbits that Podkin meets tells the reader a lot about what kind of creatures they are. The novel also provides a few tantalising hints about an ancient race that came before. Is The Five Realms series set in our distant future? Only time will tell.

The plot of The Gift of Dark Hollow is structured in much the same way as Podkin One-Ear. It is framed as a folktale, as told by an ageing bard over a long journey. The story is a snapshot of Podkin’s life, told in a conversational tone as though the bard is speaking directly to the reader. This makes the novel feel really accessible, even to readers who might lack confidence. While the story is perhaps a little slow to find its feet, it soon hooks the reader as Podkin is forced to find his courage and face the terrifying Gorm, making a variety of colourful allies along the way. Its overall pacing was a lot more consistent this time around, balancing the quieter scenes and action nicely to build to a satisfying climax.

Outside of Podkin’s continuing adventures, the book also started to reveal that the Bard has many secrets and a greater story to tell. While nothing really comes of it in this book, it does nicely hint at the danger that will inevitably catch up with him, making me very curious to learn what he has done. Really, my only small issue with The Gift of Dark Hollow was its ending. Much like the previous instalment, this was quite abrupt and gave the story an episodic feel, with Podkin returning to Dark Hollow for his next adventure.

Yet where this novel really shone was its characters. In this book, Podkin’s inner circle grows to include a few more characters. While blind warrior Crom and acrobatic siblings Mish and Mash still have important roles, they are joined by Zarza (a female assassin), Yarrow (a bard with a photographic memory) and Vetch (who seems decidedly shifty). These three add some brilliant variety to the cast, bringing with them some interesting viewpoints and adding valuable new skills to the party.

Podkin grows a lot over the course of the story. While the last novel focused on his great destiny, in The Gift of Dark Hollow he is forced to confront the fact that there are more important things than playing the hero. While Podkin is awarded a second Gift in this story, I was pleased to see that it was underused. Starclaw felt like a bit of a deus ex machina in the last novel but this time Podkin was forced to use his wits far more than his magical artefacts.

Yet the absolute best thing about this novel was what it did for Paz. While she was cruelly side-lined in Podkin One-Ear, this time she was afforded the chance to really come into her own. Through her conversations with Zarza and training with Bridgid, she has finally settled into a role that suits her and also gains her own incredible Gift. This time around, Paz’s role was vitally important to the climax and it was nice to see her and Podkin working together to save the day.

Anyhow, I think I’ve probably said enough. All in all, The Gift of Dark Hollow was great. It really improved on the first book with some great world-building and strong characters. I really can’t wait to find out what adventures Podkin will have next.

The Gift of Dark Hollow can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Beasts of Grimheart | Arkham Reviews

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