Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Peculiar (Stefan Bachmann)

The Peculiar
Stefan Bachmann
Fiction, YA Fantasy
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Many years ago, after fading to myth, the faeries returned to England in force. In the Smiling War - named for the grinning skulls littering the landscape - thousands of lives were lost, until human artillery and sheer numbers overwhelmed the wild and strange fay forces. Today, the faerie races live in slums and alleys, their magic countered by iron and clockwork and bells. Humans distrust the fay, and fay distrust the humans.
Neither side cares for the changelings - ill-fated halfbreeds, few of whom reach adulthood for the lynch mobs ready to blame them for any ill luck, or simply for daring to exist.
Bartholomew and his kid sister, Hettie, have lived their whole lives in Old Crow Alley. Hidden by their human mother, they can only dream of a normal life, where neighbors coming to call doesn't mean hiding in a locked room and where simply looking out the window isn't risking death. As they say, don't get yourself noticed, and you won't get yourself hanged. But when the strange woman in the plum-colored dress visits a neighbor, Bartholomew is noticed... and, with changeling children vanishing only to turn up in the Thames, hollowed out by unknown forces, merely being hanged might be a dream. Soon, he finds himself entangled in a plot with ties all the way to London, where a dark scheme threatens both humans and fay.

REVIEW: The cover looked intriguing, and it has an interesting premise and setting, but The Peculiar fails in the execution. Bachmann returns to the roots of faerie lore to create a race (or group of races) far more nightmarish and dangerous than many modern, whitewashed depictions acknowledge. Though captive sprites light up streetlamps and nobles tinker with magical toys, these beings are utterly alien in their thoughts and powers, and to meddle in their affairs is to meddle in forces no mortal can hope to comprehend. Between the strange magic and the clockwork bent of an alternate elder-day England, this book establishes a gritty, dark, yet refreshingly different world. Unfortunately, neither the characters nor the storyline justify it. Bartholomew is a selfish idiot of a protagonist, who repeatedly does the dumbest possible thing in a given situation; the narrative then spends at least a page, often more, trying to rationalize said decision as anything other than a contrivance to complicate the plot. He also stubbornly doesn't care about anyone but himself and - ostensibly - his sister Hettie, not even when it becomes clear that his problems are part of troubles that could destroy the whole world. As a result, he simply won't listen, which gets him into even more trouble. Working opposite him, but toward a similar goal, is the human politician Arthur Jelliby, another character who sets out to do precisely nothing and only reluctantly realizes that that option isn't advisable when it would allow a great evil to triumph. At least Jelliby steps up to the plate once he realizes he has no choice; even in the last chapter, Bartholomew still doesn't give a dang if the world is torn apart. The bad guys, naturally, only care for themselves and their goals, employing rather gruesome means in pursuit of their nefarious ends. So, in a novel where every single character doesn't want to save anything but their own skins, whom exactly am I supposed to sympathize with, and why should I care if this world might be annihilated? The answers for me, unfortunately, turned out to be "nobody" and "no reason." The storyline meanders from problem to problem and unpleasant encounter to unpleasant encounter, building up to a climax almost in spite of itself. Only at the very ending does it reveal itself to be the first part of a series of unknown length - a betrayal that cost it the extra half-star that its imaginative premise almost earned. On the plus side, the story read fast, but mostly because I just wanted it to end. I still think Bachmann has some nice ideas; unfortunately, that potential is wasted in a story that just plain doesn't want the reader to care.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - My Review
Stardust (Neil Gaiman) - My Review
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams) - My Review

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