3 October 2012
REVIEW: THE PECULIAR
Series: Yes, #1
UK Publisher: HarperCollins
UK Release date: 18th September 2012
Genre: Steampunk faery fantasy
Kindly given by the publisher for an honest review
Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.
In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings--Peculiars--and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.
One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley--Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.
First he's noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong. (Goodreads)
In The Peculiar, Bachmann has created an alternative England where a door to the faery world was once opened. This alternative world incorporates elements of Victorian England, gothic steampunk and magical fantasy, and is both wonderfully vivid in its opulence but also darkly dangerous. Since the destruction of Old Bath and the introduction of faeries to the country, there has been an uneasy alliance between humans, changelings (half humans half faeries), and the different types of faeries from sprites and gnomes to Sidhe. Neither side understands or trusts the other. And it is unfortunately the half bloods or changelings that bear the brunt of this prejudice and mistrust. I do love this world that has been built, but I do feel more could have been done to add depth and development to the characters.
My feelings towards Mr Jelliby are a little ambivalent. He’s the kind of upper-class gentleman that doesn’t like to rock the boat and is rather ineffectual. But despite the fact that he can be indecisive and cowardly, he doesn’t just idly sit back and let events unfold without trying to intervene. I’m not fully convinced this was down to character development, and I did sometimes doubt the believability of his actions. Would such a nervous character really be able to step up as the hero without more persuasion than just thinking ‘well someone has to do it’?
Poor changeling Bartholomew and his little sister have been forced to live hidden away from everyone else. It is only when the curious Bartholomew spots a mysterious lady magically whisk away his young neighbour, that he sets out into the wide world. I felt I understood and liked Bartholomew a lot more, with his desire to have a fairy helper and yet even greater desire to protect his sister.
The story is written in third person from Bartholomew’s and Mr Jelliby’s perspectives. Occasionally the perspectives overlapped, to give an omniscient narration within the same chapter. I found this a little disconcerting, as my preference is to keep third person perspectives quite separate. Something that also stood out about the writing was that the story gave no context straight away to what the characters' motivations were. You are plunged straight into the story and have to figure out what is going on as the characters Bartholomew and Mr Jelliby do, and decipher what Mr. Lickerish might be up to. I actually liked this though, as I had to keep guessing and wondering how their paths might all cross and come together.
Despite some of the narrative and character niggles, I enjoyed The Peculiar as a visually splendid Victorian delight, mixing up steampunk and gothic, faery fantasy to create something that children will love.