Emilie & the Hollow World by Martha Wells

While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

First thoughts: My experience of the Steampunk genre is that it consistently provides books that I either love or loath. When executed well, it often offers us worlds with aether, Victoriana and fantastical science and magical systems. But just like 200year old pistols, these novels have got to get close to the reader, or they miss their mark. So was this a hit or miss?

The blurb is right that this is “a fantastic adventure” and made me think of all the Jules Verne stories I so loved as a child. The cover design depicts the journey which changes Emilie’s life and fits with the genre and overall feel of the book. 

Plot: The story unfolds wonderfully, starting with a chapter that reels the reader in by piquing their curiosity and then heightening the interest with lots of action – there is no shortage of drawn pistols! :-). I would have liked a couple more sub-plots, but it has an understated elegance as a light read — rating 3.5/5.

Pacing: The start is promising, and the journeys by dirigible and ship are fascinating and often imbued with a sense of danger. I loved that Martha Wells kept me invested in the story by creating an air of suspense about whether the dirigible or ship would be able to overcome all the obstacles. 

Emilie and her companions have to overcome glitchy magic and experimental science, a villain, unfriendly inhabitants and more. After a third of the novel, I found the pace dropped off, which meant I ended up putting the book aside and reading something else in between. Still, there was never a question of me not returning to Emilie #1. Rating 3 out of 5.

Characters: Lady Marlende, while being a ‘proper’ lady is also progressive; she’s not interested in being conventional and makes a brilliant role model for Emilie. Two of my favourite characters – Kenar and Rani – aren’t from Emilie’s world, but from the Hollow World. Lord Engal’s a bit of a mystery. I think we’ll get to know him as the series progresses, as we don’t get very close to him here.

Our main character, Emilie, is likeable, but I didn’t entirely fall in love with her. I enjoyed her friendship with Kenar and Rani and her admiration of Lady Marlende. The women don’t shrink back from defending themselves in battle unless retreat is wise! For the romantics out there: yes, there’s a hint of a love interest 🙂 – rating: 3.5 out of 5

World-Building: When it comes to the world-building, I almost feel like retracting that I called this a light read under plot! There’s a significant amount of detail that goes into creating Emilie’s home and the Hollow World. Martha Wells’ descriptive style seems effortless and wonderfully vivid. I loved this aspect of the book! – rating: 5 out of 5

Final thoughts: Emilie and the Hollow World is a fun read, packed with adventure and imagination. It hits the mark for steampunk and tips its hat to classic novels. The ending is perfect in that it completes this adventure, but makes the reader eager to carry on with the series.  3.6 out of 5 

Recommended to: Fans of Jules Verne and any well-executed steampunk lit, it’s got a younger rather than more mature YA feel to it, and that works perfectly for the story that it is.

Thank you to Strange Chemistry and Netgalley, for my e-ARC of Emilie and the Hollow World, which I received in exchange for an honest review. A Free Excerpt from Chapter One is Available on Martha Well’s site, click here.

Have you read it? What did you think?


  1. I think I’ve evolved into a somewhat impatient reader, too! This sounds pretty good overall, even though it’s not perfect. I’m glad the world-building impressed you! It definitely sounds like a book I would expect to do well in that department. Brilliant review. 🙂

    1. Thanks Bev, it’s really imaginative and the journey’s fascinating. I can’t really say why I found urgency to read on dropped off a bit third of the way through, but once I was back in was sucked in again. So yes, the interest did hold 🙂

  2. Great review! I hadn’t heard of this series before, but it definitely sounds like something I’d be interested in. I’m going to add it to my list. 🙂

  3. I’m not a huge steampunk fan, but I love action and this one sounds full of that. I’m an impatient reader, too, and overly critical. It’s a drawback of being a writer…
    Great review! 🙂

  4. I’m still on the fence about steampunk, as I’m an author who loves looking forward (rather than back). That said, this one sounds pretty cool, and I like what Strange Chemistry is offering so far.

  5. I am totally the same as you with the steampunk genre except the book generally falls into the loathe category 😦 I really like the cover for this one, but I am a really impatient reader too so I’m not too sure how I would fare with this one. Great review.

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