Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow
by Jessica Townsend
Morrigan Crow and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society, helped bring down the nefarious Ghastly Market, and proven themselves loyal to Unit 919. Now Morrigan faces a new, exciting challenge: to master the mysterious Wretched Arts, and control the power that threatens to consume her.
But a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realizes it’s up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and everyone in Nevermoor – in more danger than she ever imagined.
Morrigan Crow is entering her second year as a member of the Wundrous Society, and at last she has a group of genuine friends and teachers that are going to help her develop her skills as a wundersmith. Everything is going smoothly until the hollowpox – a mysterious illness that targets wunimals – begins to sweep through Nevermoor.
I find it very hard to talk about this series without going round and round in a circle of praise because, like the first two books, this book is brilliant and the characters even more so. Townsend continues to talk to her audience with respect, and never patronises them, which is made even more important by the fact that this is a novel about a pandemic which has been released during a worldwide pandemic.
Hollowpox doesn’t only touch on those issues, though – and I hesitate to say ‘issues’ because while there is so much in Hollowpox, it hasn’t become what I call an ‘issues book’ where the story takes a backseat so the author can make a point – but the prejudice against and treatment of wunimals by some members of Nevermoorian society hit very close to home in the wake of 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement. What’s brilliant about this, though, is that Townsend doesn’t let wunimals stand in as a fantastical version of the Black community because this series doesn’t only include white people; she’s found a way to comment on inequality within society without once again making people of colour the victims of that inequality. This is a fantasy world, after all, and can therefore have its own prejudices instead of borrowing all of ours.
I thought it might be difficult to read a pandemic book during a pandemic – I lost my Grandma in April, my brother-in-law was in a coma for six weeks and my sister very recently lost one of her friends – but one of the joys of reading Middle Grade is how hopeful it is. The hollowpox does take its toll, both in how it attacks its victims and the paranoia and vitriol the fear of it brings out in everyone else, but this isn’t a bleak story. I can’t say it’s all sunshine and daisies, though, and that ending has me desperate for the next book in the series.
Honestly I can’t remember the last time I read a fantasy series that has such a compelling hero and villain dynamic. We learn a little more about Ezra Squall in this book and we know he’s the bad guy, and yet a part of me can’t help wondering if Townsend is going to get me on his side at some point in future; the best villains, after all, are the ones we can understand even though we don’t agree with their methods. We’re still not entirely sure what Squall’s deal is but, though Nevermoor is wonderful, it’s been no secret from the start that it’s a place with issues that still need sorting out. Even Jupiter North mentions, in the very first book, that the Wundrous Society is kind of nonsense when so many people who don’t make it into the society are also brilliant.
Speaking of Jupiter, I adore him. I wish he was my big brother and I love his relationships with Morrigan and Jack. I love Morrigan so much, but I’m so excited to hopefully learn even more about Jupiter as the series continues. To me he’s clearly a bisexual chaotic good mess, and to be honest I refuse to believe he’s straight after Townsend included another LGBT+ relationship in this book. It’s so powerful seeing the queer community take up space in a series like this and not have it be treated like a big deal by the other characters.
We meet even more new characters in this instalment, too! There’s Rook and Sofia, two new teachers I adore (Sofia, in particular, is such a gem), Holliday Wu, who leads the Wundrous Society’s Public Distractions Department, Roshni Singh, a librarian at the Gobleian Library, which is a setting I would love to see more from in future, and Nurse Tim, who I love more than is probably necessary for a character who only appears in a couple of scenes. I am so in love with the way Townsend populates her world with so many different people, and how even the ones we meet for mere moments are characters I remember.
I am so excited for the next book in this series, especially following some of the decisions Morrigan had to make. She’s a wonderful heroine, who makes mistakes even though her heart is in the right place, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.