Saturday, June 9, 2012

Review: The Peculiars

The Peculiars
by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Available as: hardcover
Pages: 354
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: May 1, 2012
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy, steampunk

From Goodreads:
"On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears."

I received this as an ebook from NetGalley.

The synopsis of The Peculiars grabbed my interest as soon as I read it, and this book went right to the top of my "must read soon or the anticipation will kill me" list. It sounded like an epic adventure, a bit of self discovery, and a possible romance, all wrapped up in a fantasy world of peculiar folk. I envisioned something rich in detail and in content, but the book didn't quite live up to my expectations.

From the start, Scree is touted as a mysterious, dangerous, almost mythical place. It's in the back of Lena's mind at all times. It's the ultimate destination on Lena's grand journey, which the whole book is centered around. And yet, when Lena finally reached Scree, it just didn't come alive for me. I liked the idea of it as a sort of wilderness, but for all the build up, it was kind of anticlimactic when Scree became the main setting at last.

The seaside town of Knob Knoster, however, was described beautifully. I felt like I was there - I could feel the salty air and hear the seabirds calling. I could picture the town as clearly as if I were strolling down the streets alongside Lena. I just wish Scree had come alive this way. I hate to say it, but in comparison, Scree was a little dull.

Jimson was a great character - totally my kind of guy. Bookish, unintentionally charming, and genuinely kind. I liked the interactions between him and Lena, at times tender and at other times heated. (SPOILER - highlight to read: I thought Pansy's part in the story was a little weak. I realize the significance of her showing up and voicing her opinions, but it was a bit rushed; she was there, she said her piece, and then she faded into the background.) Mr. Beasley and the characters in his household grew on me, especially Mrs. Mumbles. There are some revelations about the household that are a little predictable, but I didn't mind. (Slight SPOILER - highlight to read: That's not Lena on the cover. I'm sure that's a silly thing to point out in a review, but when I realized that Lena's goblinism traits don't include wings and her hair is dark, I was kind of disappointed. Which I know is also silly. But I just assumed the girl on the cover would be the main character.) Lena's dealings with Marshal Saltre made me want to smack myself in the forehead sometimes. I understand that, for the sake of the plot, Lena needed to work with him, but she stayed on his side long past the point when some of his actions should have made her suspicious.

The idea of self-acceptance is present throughout the book. Lena struggles to accept herself for who she is, regardless of how she looks or who her father was, little by little as the story goes on. Some of my favorite lines in the book came from significant moments as Lena learns to accept herself as she is. At one point she exclaims, in an effort to defend herself against someone quite prejudiced against Peculiars,
"I don't know who I am. But do you know who you are? Does anyone really? What makes a decent person? Does being the same as everyone else mean being better than people or does it just make it easier to look down your nose at them?"
Later, in Scree, as Lena worries that her father's personality and choices may have influenced her, she is told by a significant character,
"It's not your family who defines you; they're an influence, all right, but they don't have the final say. We answer for that ourselves."

The ending was a little abrupt for me. Things wrapped up quite neatly (SPOILER - highlight to read: the "she's with us" plot at the jail worked a little too well, and the lawman turning on Marshal Saltre was a little too convenient), although it leaves things open for another book to continue Lena's story. If this book is the beginning of a series, then the ending works. They got to Scree, which was the goal, and now the next book can cover what happens to Lena from here, which I'm very curious to read about. However, if this book is not the start of a series, then the ending was pretty unsatisfying for me. Lena got the answers she was seeking rather quickly, and then it was over. It just didn't feel like an ending; it felt like it was leading into something else. Maybe I was hoping for too much. I just felt like it cut me off right when I was getting to the good stuff.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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