|Publisher||Orion Children's Books|
|Date Published||10 June 2021|
A strange disease is attacking wunimals in Nevermoor, turning the usual peaceful anthropomorphic creatures into raging beasts, a danger to themselves and others. As the Hollowpox, as it becomes known, spreads, young wundersmith Morrigan Crow starts to take matters into her own hands.
When wunimals, the anthropomorphic creatures who live alongside humans in Nevermoor, suddenly start being gripped by an uncontrollable rage, turning on others and even injuring themselves before falling into a coma, fear stalks the streets. Humans start to view wunimals with suspicion and there are calls for them to be put under a curfew, increasing their sense of being ostracised from the rest of the populace.
Morrigan is deeply worried by what’s happening to her friends such as Sophia the wunfox (it’s deeply insulting not to put wun in front of the animal type, thereby insinuating that the wunimal is no more than an unnimal, the term for an ordinary animal). The wunimals who have fallen into a coma seem to be hollow, all sense of self taken from them. The plague comes to be known as the Hollowpox and despite attempts to find a cure, it starts to spread rapidly.
When the adults around her appear to be no closer to solving the problem, Morrigan takes a hand in matters, even going so far as to commit treason in the hope of striking a bargain that will result in a cure for the Hollowpox. But any bargain comes at a price and the question remains whether Nevermoor – and Morrigan Crow – are prepared to pay that price.
Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow is the third book in Jessica Townsend’s endlessly charming and inventive series about the young Wundersmith and her eccentric guardian and his even more eccentric home, the shapeshifting, almost sentient Hotel Deucalion with its enormous housekeeper, Fenestra the Magnificat.
Despite an ever-present sense of fun in the books (transport is via a tube system where travellers grab hold of a rail with their brolly and get carried around at high speed), there’s a very real sense of danger as well (typified by a visit to a library in a pocket universe where the inhabitants of books can escape and there are packs of marauding bugs). There’s also the sadness that comes from an ever-present feeling of loss as more and more wunimals fall victim to the Hollowpox and the remaining ones are treated like social pariahs, threatened and hated.
There will be inevitable comparisons to Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, but Townsend has succeeded in creating a magical world that utterly stands on its own two – or four or more – feet. Morrigan Crow is loyal and caring as well as feisty and impetuous. She’s growing in her powers but has by no means achieved her full potential. To do that, she might well have to throw in her lot with Esra Squall, the mass murdering Wundersmith who has been stalking Morrigan throughout all three books. She knows Squall is an immoral, dangerous liar, but the most frightening thing is when Squall himself shows fear. That’s when Morrigan knows something is very, very wrong indeed.
This is a series I’ll keep coming back to. It’s grown in scope and imagination with each book as the characters and the setting develops and deepens. I enjoyed seeing more of the political situation between Wintersea and Nevermoor and learning more about wunimals and how they are perceived by others. Townsend is fleshing out – and darkening – her highly original world in a very satisfactory way and I look forward to seeing what happens next to her young wundersmith as it’s a forgone conclusion that Morrigan Crow won’t stay out of trouble for very long.
Reviewed 26 March 2022 by Linda Wilson