Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

source: public library
Changeling — The child of a faery and a human, a changeling is small, sickly, and sharp-faced, and, if his faery-blood is particularly strong, he will have branches growing out of his head instead of hair. He is not expected to live past the age of twelve. [...] Half-bloods are forever being hung by the superstitious lower class, or stolen by the faeries who hate them for their ugliness. They spend most of their short lives locked-up and hidden away. (Bachmann's Faery Encyclopedia)
I checked out the e-audio version of The Peculiar in preparation for a train trip earlier this month. I hoped to while away the 7 hours each way listening to the novel and knitting. While the shawl project I packed proved to be a poor choice for train travel, The Peculiar did not let me down. It was engaging, but not too taxing, which was particularly useful during my exhausted return trip.

The novel is set in an alternative 19th century England, in which humans and faeries (cut off from the Old Country after an ill-fated attempt at conquest many years before) live in somewhat uncomfortable peace. It's two protagonists are Bartholomew Kettle, a changeling from the faery slums of Bath (his father, a high faery, "danced off into the night and never c[a]me back"), and Arthur Jelliby, a (human) member of the Privy Council who is particularly ill-suited to political life (his mother, a Hessian princess, got him a position as MP "while playing croquet with the Duke of Norfolk").  When a number of suspicious deaths seem to point to a serial killer targeting changeling children, our two protagonists independently develop vested interests in thwarting the killer.

The Peculiar was written by a teenager (apparently Bachmann, age 18 at the time of publication, started writing it at age 16), but it doesn't read like a novel by a teen (better writing than Christopher Paolini, for example, and no focus on romance, sex, or other angsty teenage occupations).  The novel is being marketed to middle grade readers, but it would be just as (if not more) appropriate for young adults because of its underlying themes.

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