on 18th March 2014
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 north, she meets Jimson Quiggley, a young librarian 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 soon boarded by a handsome young marshal, Thomas Saltre, who learns who Lena’s father is and convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, called Zephyr House. Eventually, though, Lena must venture into the wilds of Scree and confront her deepest fears.
Set in an alternate version of the late 1800’s, The Peculiars is an interesting tale of one girl’s quest to know more about her father and just why she is so different. Born with abnormally long fingers and toes, Lena Mattacascar has always been a little odd. Her grandmother claims Lena is part-goblin, a Peculiar. When she opens a letter from her father who has been absent for most of her life, Lena uses it as an opportunity to learn more. More about her father and why he left, more about the Peculiars who live segregated from normal society in the far north and ultimately more about herself. This is a coming of age novel with a difference.
Lena is a different kind of heroine. She’s bold for her time, leaving the safety of her mother and a big city for adventure and the opportunity to find answers for her questions regarding her paternal ancestry. But Lena is still uncertain and rather naive regarding the world. Her adventure starts out fairly rocky and her plan is incredibly tentative. Always embarrassed by her hands (and unsure if it’s merely a birth defect or a sign of goblinism), Lena is fairly distrustful and cautious of strangers but she does manage to meet some of the quirkiest characters imaginable. Jimson Quiggley in his cheap suit and out there theories on Scree, the inventor and healer Tobias Beasley and his impressive estate – as well as so many others.
I enjoyed the steampunk aspects of this book. They were creative and inventive. Despite this book being a fictionalized version of an era, it felt right and natural. It did take a while for me to get into this book. The start was a little slow and I never found myself completely warming to Lena but by the time she made it into Knob Knoster – I was absorbed. I loved the quirky cast of characters Lena met on her journey with each one being slightly larger than life and yet felt right belonging in Lena’s story. The second half of the novel speeds along with a lot of action and adventure. The characters’ true natures came out and just made everything that much more exciting.
Throughout this novel, there are a lot of mysteries and I loved getting to discover the peculiar goings on of the Zephr House. Getting introduced to Mr Beasley’s odd inventions and experiencing Jimson’s zest for life and infectious good nature was a pleasure. I loved his interactions with Lena and found myself laughing out loud at some of the things he came out with.
The Peculiars is a book with a great story, intriguing characters and a nice take on steampunk.
Thanks to Thames and Hudson for the review copy