I was an impromptu book reviewer last year, and I started off with Olga Gibbs’ Heavenward, a dark-fantasy about a teenager unwillingly dragged into a celestial conflict. I enjoyed the book, and more so Ariel’s character; it was refreshing to see a protagonist who struggled with a mental illness. Indeed, I wouldn’t usually read this genre, but I wholly support Olga’s quest to lessen the stigma associated with mental illnesses through narrative.
And so I’m happy to say that Heavenward’s sequel, Hallow, successfully improves on Heavenward in a plethora of ways, to it’s dynamic characters, intimate portrayal of visceral emotion and the compelling twist ending.
Hallow’s main strength is Heavenward’s main strength, the protagonist, Ariel. We accompany her on her journey, being made privy to her sass, sarcasm and selflessness along the way. We also see her weak and feeble in some harrowing and utterly memorable explorations of her and her family. This is well contrasted with her literal otherworldly strength, and instinctual ‘protective older-sibling’ mode. The range of emotion that we see Ariel express makes her a very well-developed character, and a compelling, realistic protagonist. Moreover, these emotions are depicted in vivid descriptions that makes Ariel especially relatable.
The supporting cast, most notably Rafe and Sam, add a great deal to the story. They certainly aren’t the infallible best-friend companion that is all too common in similar books; both characters are crafted with consistency and nuance. Their interests and goals are made ambiguous to great effect, genuinely making Ariel feel alone. The character interactions are thus exciting and tense.
The situations are circumstances that these characters are dire, and unexpected. Hallow doesn’t have a structure to it’s story; not an academic year, not a quest to go to a magical mountain etc.. It instead flows between event to event. The tension and drama that these events hold, especially in the second half of the book, makes the whole story a seamless flow of compelling darkness and drama.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Hallow weaves in several important themes into it’s already complex mythos. These themes are not at all fictional, and speak to important problems in society. From abuse, mental health, and economic deprivation, Hallow pulls no punches in including some heart-breakingly real depictions of inequalities and injustices that blight society. It is the inclusion of these themes that I most admire the ambition of Hallow’s narrative, and it is for this reason that I hope Hallow finds itself of the bookshelf of many young readers.