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The Hollow Crown by Jeff Wheeler

The Hollow Crown by Jeff Wheeler
Book Name: The Hollow Crown
Author: Jeff Wheeler
Publisher(s): 47North
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: June 13, 2017

Spoiler Warning: While what follows is a spoiler-free look at The Hollow Crown, discussion of the 4th book in a series and the start of a new trilogy necessarily “spoils” much of what came before. If you plan on reading Wheeler’s Kingfountain novels but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet, suffice it to say that The Hollow Crown is another compelling entry in the series and you definitely should read it. That being said, if you haven’t read the first three Kingfountain novels, you might want to stop reading this review and start reading The Queen’s Poisoner.

One of the themes prevalent throughout Jeff Wheeler’s Kingfountain novels is that history repeats itself. With The Hollow Crown, Wheeler proves that adage true not only in plot but in execution. Wheeler has once again woven an engaging, heartfelt tale delivered with equal parts skill and artistry. Without reinventing the wheel, The Hollow Crown marks yet another solid volume in the ongoing saga of Ceredigion.

Set several years after the events of The King’s Traitor, The Hollow Crown introduces the reader to Tryneowy Kiskaddon—daughter of Owen, hero of the first trilogy—and a cast of other second generation characters. Wheeler uses their introduction to both catch the reader up on events of the first trilogy and set the stage for what is to come. Much like Tad Williams does with The Heart of What Was Lost, Wheeler is able to recap previous books without ever resorting to naked “infodumping.” He employs an economy of word that is refreshing, and his workmanlike prose is a change of pace from the many overwrought and overwritten fantasy novels filling today’s shelves.

Wheeler wastes no time getting the story moving, starting with a watershed event in Trynne’s life and quickly jumping forward several years to a Ceredigion that, while more prosperous than ever under the benevolent rule of young King Drew and Trynne’s father, is on the precipice of war. Threats both internal and foreign abound, and the delicate peace forged by Owen and his contemporaries is about to fracture.

As we follow Trynne from her home in peaceful, mysterious Ploemeur to the royal capital at Kingfountain, the web of intrigue becomes more intricate without ever becoming convoluted. The introductions of Morwenna, daughter of the deposed Severn Argentine, and the return of Fallon—Trynne’s childhood friend and the son of Elysabeth Victoria Mortimer (a favorite of the first trilogy) signal the start of the larger story, while hearkening back to Owen’s own journey to manhood in the distant past.

Morwenna and Fallon are well-written and fully formed and while a lesser author could be accused of creating one-dimensional archetypes, Wheeler does yeoman’s work by conveying the simple youth of these characters. These are, in many ways, children that are just coming into their own. For each of them, self-esteem is fluid and often fleeting. And yet they are aware of the importance of their roles in the kingdom, and take their responsibilities seriously.

Wheeler’s ability to capture the mercurial nature of young adulthood is one of sharpest knives in his belt. Trynne and Fallon, in particular, are written in a manner that deftly conveys the peaks and valleys of self-confidence that any young adult experiences. The late teens and early twenties are years in which most of us feel, alternately, invincible or utterly incapable of living up to expectations—be they self-imposed or otherwise. This dichotomy comes through clearly, but with a light touch that never feels melodramatic or “emo.” Wheeler writes complex, relatable stories that are emotionally accessible to an all-ages audience. His ability to do so without resorting to pandering or oversimplification is a true gift.

The Hollow Crown quickly expands in scope, and the more fantastic elements—including the mysterious and powerful Wizrs—move to the forefront. Trynne, Fallon and Morwenna all embark upon journeys leading them toward their true callings after Ceredigion’s fragile peace is abruptly and almost disastrously shattered. The last two thirds of the book are a rollercoaster ride, and I read the last hundred or so pages in one sitting.

There are very clear allusions to Arthurian legend peppered throughout Wheeler’s Kingfountain books, and The Hollow Crown no different. But instead of being derivative, Wheeler’s take is both fresh and engaging. Without spoiling anything, Wheeler flips the script in a few important areas and his take on the Hero’s Trials is one of my favorite parts of the book.

The Hollow Crown offers something for every type of fantasy fan—and like the rest of the Kingfountain series it is appropriate for all ages. Whether you are a fan of magic, espionage, political maneuvering or war stories, The Hollow Crown has something that is sure to make you smile.

Jeff Wheeler continues to impress me. His commitment to penning clean, accessible all-ages prose is commendable in a publishing environment where many authors are trying to outgrim and outdark everything that has come before. The Hollow Crown is shining example of simple, skillful storytelling. If you’re looking for something different, give Wheeler’s Kingfountain books a try. I think you’ll be happy you did.


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