The Peculiar

The Peculiar

This is a Cybils Award finalists in the middle grade science fiction/fantasy department, one of only two on this year’s that I’ve read. I feel like I read a fair amount of mg fantasy last year – but I have several more titles to add now!  This is also the book that came from the library with the last 30 pages missing – I had to take it back and wait for it to be reordered before I could finish it!  Worse yet, I wasn’t the first to check it out, so I pity the first few people to try to read it.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

Not so very long ago, the Faeries invaded the human world, and there was war.  The humans won, but as the faery stayed in the first place because they couldn’t get back, they now have an uneasy coexistence with iron and church bells used to constrain the faeries. Both sides despise the other and despise worst of all the changelings or peculiars, half-breed children.  (Were there ever truly loving inter-species relations, or only short seductions?  The story doesn’t address this.)  One of our heroes, Bartholomew, is just such a child.  He himself could pass for human, but his little sister Hettie has pointed ears and branches for hair.  Both of them stay hidden, as the hatred of peculiars is so deep that lynchings are common.  One day, watching from his attic window in a Bath slum, Bartholomew sees a sinister lady in plum velvet with a tiny, wicked face in the back of her head.  As he watches, she draws the little neighbor changeling with thistle hair out of his house, and disappears with him in a flurry of black feathers. When Bartholomew’s good intentions go awry, he knows that he and Hettie are in danger as well.   Meanwhile, in London, Mr Jelliby is a wealthy and idle member of the Privy Council, which includes some faery members.  His conscience is pricked, however, when he watches the faery Mr Lickerish redirect council interest away from the mysterious string of murdered changeling children.  As much as he fears trouble, he is drawn into investigating the murders himself.  There are some steampunk aspects to the book as well, with a setting that feels 19th-century and clockwork birds used to communicate, clockwork horses, and a dirigible.  This is dark fantasy with a whole lot of creepy mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat, and occasionally made me decide to save this for morning and pick something calmer for bedtime reading.  It’s definitely not a world I’d want to live in, but it’s beautifully drawn, with characters and setting having equal importance to the exciting plot.  I cared about both Bartholomew and Mr Jelliby.  I will note that even with the last 30 pages, it does not end conclusively, so those who like to wait until a series is complete to start reading will want to hold off for a bit.  There is a whole lot to like packed neatly and cleverly into this book, and I am very glad that it made it to the second round of Cybils considerations.

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9 Responses to The Peculiar

  1. Julie Grasso says:

    Wow, as a lover of Sci Fi and Middle Grade Sci fi especially I have seen this cover a few times and it intrigues me. I am a lover of Harry Potter etc even with its darker elements, but what I have noticed is a real trend in traditional publishing towards really dark stories for the middle grade market. There are a couple of other books, including this one that I intend to check out. One is the Sinister Sweetness of the Splendid Academy an the other is the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Both have rave reviews calling them middle grade horror. I have to admit, the term horror for middle grade I find pretty concerning. I suspect I will actually enjoy the books, but may not consider recommending them for a middle grade child. That’s how I felt about Neil Gaimans “The Graveyard Book.” I would be interested in your thoughts on this. Thanks for linking in and catch you on the hop. Cheers Julie

    • Thanks for your comments, Julie! I’ve been noticing the trend towards darker stories, myself. I think whether or not I’d consider something appropriate depends very much on the child and the book. For example, the zombie-like Cauldron Born gave me nightmares when i read The Book of Three as a child – but my 7-year-old son rubbed his hands together and begged to hear the book when i told him how scary I’d found it. The Graveyard Book – I think the intro scene that was terrifying for me as an adult was subtle enough that a child might find it less scary. But I think kids can be less aware of mortality and so less bothered by it. And on the other hand again, my son who loves bloody fantasy battles would be crushed to read about people being ill in a more realistic setting.

      • Julie Grasso says:

        Thank you so much for your thoughts on that. Gigi is only 18 months so I am not quite at the point of seeing how she responds to these books. I think the way boys and girls read is also quite different so thank you for opening my eyes to that perspective too. I will Look forward to your reviews. Cheers Julie

  2. Nice review – I bought it in hardback on the strength of the great reviews and due to my own level of intrigue at the cover art and premise, but for some reason I couldn’t finish it….There was a lot of interesting stuff in there but weirdly, it didn’t get its hooks in to me. Maybe I’ll try again in a few months…

    • Thank you! You just never know – maybe it will work for you another time, or maybe it just isn’t the right book for you. I’m glad you stopped reading if it wasn’t working for you, though!

  3. Ooh, the book sounds fantastic, but it sure sounds dark too. It’s amazing how much more kids can tolerate now. My son loves dark tales and he’s only 6! But when you think about, stories like the Grimm Fairy Tales were also very dark. I guess these things come in cycles. Thanks so much for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheers!

    • And thank you for reading! Yes, I think it would have been too dark for me, Sensitive Child that I was, and I still wouldn’t give it to another sensitive child. But some kids find the darker stories helpful, I think.

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