Hollowpox: the Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermore #3), by Jessica Townsend

This past week my domestic tasks and my 7000 daily fitness steps for which my insurance will reward me ($25 a month, aka 2 books) have been made infinitely more palatable by the audiobook of Hollowpox: the Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermore #3), by Jessica Townsend (hardover published by Little, Brown, October 2020 in the US). Gemma Whelan, the narrator, is brilliant!  (nb:  because I've listened to the whole series, I don't know how anything should be spelled, so I might make mistakes...)

This is the third installment of the story of a cursed girl, Morrigan Crow, who was whisked away to Nevermore in the Free State the night she was supposed to die, and who has found there a life of magic.  Morrigan, it turns out, is a Wundersmith, able to gather magic around her and use it to make marvels happen.  She's also the only Wundersmith in Nevermore; 100 years ago, a Wundersmith named Ezra Squall revealed himself as an evil monster, and is now an exile.  For a year, Morrigan studied with her cohort of other gifted kids at Wunsoc (the Wunderous Society), but no-one has taught her how to use her powers...except Squall, in brief, strange, and terrifying encounters.

This year is different.  This year she's introduced to a group of scholars studying the long gone Wundersmiths and their arts, with the help of Stolen Hours--vignettes of the past that can be visited.  Morrigan gets to visit Stolen Hours in which Wundersmith kids were taught by masters...and she is thrilled.  

But outside of Wunsoc, terrible things are happening in Nevermore.  Wuimals--persons who have animal bodies, or physical traits of animals, are becoming infected by a mysterious ailment, the Hollowpox, that first drives them into vicious frenzies, and then strips them of their intelligence, leaving them simply animals.  Wunimals have only been accepted as equals in society fairly recently, and when infected individuals attack other citizens (sometimes fatally), prejudice against them explodes, and increasingly harsh measures are taken to keep them off the streets.

Morrigan is desperately wants to help, but her only real hope is to make a deal with the man she fears as much as the Hollowpox, Ezra Squall....the one who created the disease.

On the one hand, it was rather a strain listening to a story of terrible contagion and bigotry and injustice.  It was almost too much of an echo of 2020.  On the other hand, though, this makes it a rather powerful and timely lens in which to look back at our own world's troubles, and reflect on those, and grow.  

The twists and turns of the plot (and there were many of these!), and even more so, the lavishness of the light fantastic soothed and engrossed me--these books, though not breaking any tremendously fresh new fantasy ground, have lovely, lovely magical superstructure to it that is just delightful! In this book, for instance,we get to travel to the library of Nevermore, and it is marvelous (and dangerous....).  Arguably, the magical whimsy is so generous that it slows the story down, but I am totally ok with that in this particular case (possibly because I was listening to it, and couldn't skim description the way I would while reading, and so was compelled to enjoy it for what it was).

Morrigan's story arc keeps progressing.  She is only 13, and still learning that her actions have consequences, and still making some questionable decisions about many things, but she's learning.  New levels and vistas of the magic of Nevermore are revealed in this book, and that's delightful too.  I would, I think, have liked more development of Morrigan's relationships with the other kids in her Wunsoc unit--there's not real deepening of this here. In general, there are lots of characters, and not enough time to develop them all, and because I'm interested in every one of them, I want more.

I also, of course, want the next book on audio now. It really hurt me to not be able to look at the end to see what would happen so I wouldn't have to worry, as I would have done if I'd been reading the phsycial book, but I think this way was better.

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