books and cleverness

I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective. 


I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:

***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book

The Peculiar

The Peculiar -

What is there to like?

▪ The prologue is an incredible start. Like, say-how-good-it-is-out-loud-as-you're-reading-it good.

▪ Old-fashioned English magic—think 19th-century, Yorkshire-y, iron and salt faery magic—which is so enjoyably dark and creepy. It's not really scary, just...unsettling.

▪ The narration uses quite a bit of 19th-century language style to match, which complements the content to create a mood for the reader.

▪ On the other hand, the language is not so historically stylized that it runs the risk of being off-putting for readers in the intended age range. For the most part, the dialogue isn't much stylized, which should mean a smooth read for middle-grade readers.

▪ The structure, which alternates between Bartholomew Kettle—the titular Peculiar living in the slums—and Arthur Jelliby—a delightfully incompetent upper-class Englishman—until the two characters converge, is effective world-building, as it provides more depth, portraying both sides of the human/faery class divide.

▪ The poverty in which Bartholomew and Hettie live rings historically true (if Hettie's checkered handkerchief doesn't get to you, you're one hard-hearted villain). Compounded by his marginal status as a neither-here-nor-there Peculiar, this makes Bartholomew's sense of abandonment by the world and his wishes for a less lonely life heartbreaking. And makes his bravery for his sister all the more powerful.


What's not to like?

It loses a bit of steam towards the end. Surprising, given that the end is the climax. But the strength of this book was, I thought, in the strangeness of details, rather than the action of the plot. And the end of the book is where it's most about action.


Similar To:

StardustNeil Gaiman (guys, I know)

The Spiderwick ChroniclesHolly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susanna Clarke (I'm inclined to list that "other" Susanna Clarke book here, but figured LoGA was a more appropriate comparison simply for length's sake. Still, if you're an adult reader, you probably can't go wrong with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.)



What made me pick it up?

It was a PW Fall 2012 Flying Starts pick.