In the Coils of the Snake concludes the Hollow Kingdom trilogy, with Marak, the dry, witty, best character in the first two books dying, and his son, Catspaw, taking his place. The book mainly deals with the marriage/romantic woes of Catspaw and Miranda, who were betrothed to be married when the arrival of an elf lord ruins everyone’s plans.
In the Coils of the Snake is probably my least favorite of the Hollow Kingdom trilogy. Much like Close Kin, where the focus of the book switched halfway through, the perspective switches back and forth between Miranda, Nir, and Catspaw, with the latter two being the more interesting. Miranda is a phlegmatic protagonist. At the beginning, she seems like a good character, very similar to Kate of the first book, but halfway through the book, she turns into a limpid, bemoaning character who mopes around the elf camp and barely does anything to contribute to the story beyond being a plot device.
Catspaw and Nir embody the goblin/elf conflict and the differences between the two races. We don’t get much from the perspective of Nir, but what we do get is suitably mysterious. Despite this being my least favorite book, Dunkle does do some good plotting—there is lots of foreshadowing and a big plot reveal at the end. The majority of it I managed to guess, but it was nice to see everything buildup to the big revelation.
My two favorite characters were Tattoo and Hunter, whose scenes together were my favorites in the book. They managed to pull up an overall disappointing book a little with their bonding as friends. Hollow Kingdom remains my favorite of the trilogy. I liked how in each book we got to see more of the world, but I wish the characterization and some of the overall mechanics had been better.
I adored The Hollow Kingdom, so finding out there were two more books after it made me really happy. Close Kin is about Emily, the sister of Kate (the protoganist in The Hollow Kingdom), but it’s also about Seylin and his quest to find the elves, and the elves themselves, particularly the two female elves.
I didn’t enjoy Close Kin as much as I enjoyed the first book—there’s just a few too many places where the pace drags, and the elf history is convoluted and hard to understand. And the last third of the book is almost a rehash of The Hollow Kingdom, except a little harder to take and with a greater emphasis on children. I know that many people might not like that Dunkle emphasizes children so much, but it makes sense in the world she has built. If Marak seems a bit heartless, well, his role as King is to help protect the life of his people, and having children is one of those things. So that part I didn’t mind—plus I thought the parts with Sable overcoming her fear were good, too.
Speaking of Marak, the dry humor and wit he exudes with every line is fabulous. I literally laughed out loud, or giggled, during the last third of the book, solely due to his lines. That doesn’t happen with me a lot. Basically, all the parts in the goblin kingdom I liked—it’s when the book moves away from that where it fell apart a little bit. There are simply too many characters, and the point of view switch from Emily, to Seylin, to Sable is just one too many switches, especially since by the end of the book it’s not really about Emily anymore, or Seylin, but Sable. I liked Sable’s parts, but it made for a clumsy, confusing story.
The Hollow Kingdom, by Clare B. Dunkle, was published in 2003 by Henry Holt.
At first, The Hollow Kingdom seemed like a “Beauty and the Beast” type tale, and it does share a few similarities, but the more I read the more there was to the book than just some sort of retelling. I thought the book had a fascinating premise, and though I could tell from a mile away what the end result would be, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
I definitely think this is a book that may lead to a lot of similar complaints that stories like “Beauty and the Beast” get, since it deals with a woman being imprisoned by, in this case, a goblin king, with a romance subplot. But I do think Dunkle frames this much more like an arranged marriage. In addition, Kate isn’t technically forced into marriage—you could argue about Marak’s actions and merits, but she does willingly choose to marry him. So while the idea of a woman being coerced into marriage because there’s no other option for her—and then falling in love with the person responsible—may be dissatisfying to some (if not something stronger), I actually thought it rang true to both the setting Dunkle has established and to real life. Arranged marriages still happen, and people who reluctantly marry (or who are forced to marry) can end up falling in love with each other later on. I’m not saying this happens all the time; it’s just a plausible scenario that I thought fit in the book.
Kate was a great protagonist, exactly the sort of female character I like. While the book does involve a goblin king, he really takes second stage. The entire story revolves around Kate. And, though this may be a little spoiler-y if you’re really picky about spoilers, it’s Kate who saves the day. In fact, we get a reverse Snow White moment at the end (minus a few things) that cements the idea that Kate is the star of the book, even when she’s in a different land.
This book reminded me a little of The Safe-Keeper’s Secret, a book that I wasn’t expecting to like and then was hooked by it the more I read. I loved this book. I can’t say it was fantastically written, but there was some sort of quality to it that grabbed me from the beginning. And that’s one of the most important qualities a book can have.