Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review - "The Peculiar"

I’ve always liked the word “peculiar”. It brings to mind, not the frightening, but the strange and unreal. It’s the perfect word to describe the main characters of Stefan Bachmann’s debut novel, aptly named The Peculiar. In a world where humans and fairies live uneasily side by side, anyone willing to stick their neck out might certainly be called odd.

Young Bartholomew Kettle is a “changeling” child, though it is pointed out in the text that this is a misnomer. He was not a creature hidden in a crib while the real child has been stolen away. He, and his sister Hettie, are half-human, half-fairy. They’re Peculiars. Arthur Jelliby is a young member of Parliament, a set-in-his-ways kind of person, with his comfortable house and his pretty wife. But news that Peculiar children have been turning up dead upsets both Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby’s lives, the boy because he soon learns the danger he and his sister are in and the man because, despite his inclination not to get involved, his better nature takes over and urges him to investigate. The last straw occurs when Bartholomew is marked to be taken, but it’s Hettie who disappears in the night, and Mr. Jelliby’s search leads him straight to the Peculiar boy. Together they must combat the nefarious Mr. Lickerish if they hope to stop the cataclysmic event the fairy has planned, and if they have any chance of getting Hettie back alive.
Stefan Bachmann was sixteen years old when he began work on The Peculiar in 2010. His inexperience is nowhere to be seen in The Peculiar’s 376 pages. His youth, however, is all over it. This work is lively, imaginative and elastic. The words simply bounce off the page. The world building, while not superb, is sufficiently detailed (with an absolutely wonderful prologue), and Bachmann’s characters are so well drawn, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t yet had even twenty years’ worth of experience in the world. My favorite is the well-meaning but mildly bumbling Mr. Jelliby, a character worthy of his Dickensian name. My only quibble is the cliff-hanger of an ending Bachmann has left us. The sequel, The Whatnot, is out now, and I'm dying to get my hands on it. I can’t wait to see what Bachmann has cooked up next.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
2012, Greenwillow Books
Library copy

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