This is one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a long time. I could read the elegant, dark, and moody prologue to this debut fantasy novel over and over again.
Bartholomew is a changeling- part human, part faerie- locked away in an attic room with his sister Hettie in a faery slum of vaguely-Victorian era Bath. After humans succeeded in vanquishing the faeries in a truly creepily named The Smiling War, it’s not safe for half-bloods like Bartholomew to be seen in the streets. From his hiding place, Bartholomew witnesses a beautifully dressed woman murder a changeling child and he knows he must do something. His quest brings him to a young, nervous, and conflicted politician Arthur Jelliby, who has also stumbled upon a mysterious crime. As more and more changeling children turn up dead, covered in unusual scratches, Jelliby and Bartholomew must put aside their differences and prejudices and work together, before it’s too late.
Everything about this book is gorgeous, from that amazing cover to debut author Stefan Bachmann’s gloriously rich prose. Bachmann’s writing is smooth and sophisticated and quite subtle. This isn’t a book of non-stop action, but lingers in the moments between action,which creates incredible tension. Bachmann’s lead-up to the climax is deliberately and deliciously slow, which is good because you will want to savour his language.His world-building is plausible and ceaselessly interesting, not to mention his wonderful way with names. Bachmann is going to be compared to Christopher Paolini because of his age (he was 17 when this was written) and genre (children’s fantasy), but I found The Peculiar even more engaging and more original than the Eragon books.
Bachmann creates a rather dark world and his language is quite sophisticated. Readers who are used to the lean, plot-driven and action-packed narratives that popular current middle grade fantasy (Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman) may find the reading a bit slow-going at first. My hope is that they can hang out past the first few chapters, when they will be so entranced they can’t help but read on! Fans of middle grade steampunk such as Arthur Slade’s Hunchback Assignments or high fantasy in the vein of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials will enjoy this weird, wonderful world. Can’t wait for #2!
The Peculiar is available now from HarperCollinsCanada.