Children, born with peculiar gifts, are recruited to a secret school. There, they will be trained to defend a world which hates and fears them… no, wait, sorry, that’s the X-Men I’m thinking of; we’re reviewing something else today. In honor of the Tim Burton movie adaptation coming out, it’s time to take a look at the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children trilogy by Ransom Riggs, consisting of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Hollow City, and Library of Souls.
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.
A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
The main gimmick of the book is the integration into the story of vintage photographs which seemingly display peculiar children. As it so happens, I actually previously read a series which used photographic inserts in the same way. Unfortunately, it was the Asylum series by Madeleine Roux. Suffice to say, it did not make for a very good first impression of the style.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, fortunately, is much better than that sadly disappointing series. It starts off just slow enough to build an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue surrounding Abe’s history at the now seemingly-destroyed orphanage, then dives straight into the fantastical with Jacob’s entry into the loop and the introduction of Peculiars and their powers. The Hollows are a grotesque and menacing foe, giving real tension to the building conflict, and the climax and cliffhanger are well-executed and instantly made me want to pick up the next book of the series.
This book is not without its problems – the dissonance between the chronological and apparent mental age of the “children”, for instance, was kind of awkward and was never really explained other than Jacob thinking it must just be some inherent effect of looping – but the narrative was engaging enough that they didn’t bother me too much. Overall, the book was highly enjoyable, and a very promising introduction to the trilogy.
Final Rating (Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children): 4/5
The second book, Hollow City, is where the inclusion of the pictures actually started bugging me a little. In the first book, they were handily justified by the framing device: the photos presented to the reader were the actual in-universe photographs of Peculiars once owned by Abe and discovered by Jacob. Here, the photos don’t exist in-universe; they’re simply presented to the reader accompanying the events described in the text, even if there is no-one with a camera actually taking pictures of the events. It may seem like a little thing, but it damages the suspension of disbelief that the first book painstakingly created – as if a found-footage movie suddenly just switched to the omniscient third-person camera view of a standard movie with no explanation. It’s a tacit admission that the photos might have been interesting, but they were just an easily-discarded gimmick rather than anything truly integral to the story being told. And that makes the Miss Peregrine trilogy less unique; less, dare I say, peculiar; more like every other generic young-adult story about extraordinarily empowered children.
It’s also a mistake, I feel, for the book to end on Jacob suddenly developing the power to control Hollows, without providing any reason or explanation. The protagonist out-of-nowhere gaining a previously unhinted-at ability that just so happens to be exactly what he needs to resolve the current predicament smacks of deus ex machina; it’s bad storytelling.
In sum, while I suppose it’s a decent enough book, it doesn’t really live up to the expectations set by the first one.
Final Rating (Hollow City): 3/5
I do have to give Library of Souls some credit: the ending, where the Peculiar children are able to leave their loop because their ages have been reset, has been accused by some as being another deus ex machina, but I thought that it was properly foreshadowed: when Bentham explains that he was able to trick the Claywings into trapping themselves in a collapsing loop because the fountain of youth they sought was a side-effect of the loop-closing ritual. Furthermore, it managed to smooth over the improbability of Jacob suddenly developing Hollow-control powers by explaining that all the seemingly unconnected different abilities he had displayed were all just expressions of various facets of his true power, being a Librarian of Souls. So there are a number of things which the concluding volume did right.
That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it also did a lot of things wrong. Most immediately noticeable is the pictures. For the first few chapters, the book seems to return to the precedent set in the first novel of the photographs presented to the reader being actual in-universe photographs seen by Jacob. After a short time, however, it seemingly decides no, forget that, and goes back to the style of the second novel, where the photos exist solely for the reader’s eyes and have no in-story counterparts. And if the change in the nature of the photographs was jarring between the first and second books, it’s doubly so when occurring within the pages of a single volume.
Then there’s Jacob’s boneheaded decision to leave the Peculiars and return to his family. Just what was he expecting to happen – did he forget about them sending him to a mental institution the first time? Was he not paying attention to the running subplot about what bad parents they are and how completely incapable they are of dealing with the reality of Peculiardom? I mean, I honestly thought that this was resolved at the end of the first book, when Jacob made the decision to leave his father and accompany the Peculiars on their mission to rescue Miss Peregrine. So consider me unimpressed by the series choice of closing conflict.
I found Library of Souls to be an overall adequate conclusion to the trilogy: it mostly wrapped things up, it mostly made sense, it mostly left off on a satisfying note. It’s just a shame that a trilogy with a premise that seemed so unique, so promising, so Peculiar, should end up being merely adequate.
Final Rating (Library of Souls): 3/5