“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs: a novel review

This “young adult” oriented fairy tale is beautifully written and can be read by any aged reader. Don’t let the cover fool you: it’s not a horror and it’s not terrifying or sick and twisted. A relatively clean “PG-13” style fantasy and adventure, it is centered on a 16-year-old boy but both males and females will probably enjoy it. Fans of Harry Potter and X-Men will take pleasure in this coming-of-age mystery, unfolding into a bit of the supernatural (including some time travel).

The inclusion of eerie, vintage photos added a surreal atmosphere to the book. Some may find this gimmicky, but I found it original and refreshing. You can’t please everyone.  Also, the “Mystery” portion of Jakob’s adventure as he tries to put the puzzle pieces left by his grandfather really worked well. There was a great sense of strangeness, and the tension built up fairly steadily.

The author Ransom Riggs has a gift and definitely can write a great fairy tale. He writes very descriptively, adds depth to his environments, and builds three dimensional characters. I love his sentences—often poetically quotable passages that the bookworm in you want to share with someone! “Listen to this! Great, huh?”

Critically, I can say that some information comes a little late in the story: for example—and I’m not spoiling anything here—the big reveal where Miss Peregrine discusses just what the heck happened on the island and what those creatures are that want them dead. It all comes about 50 pages too late for me.

The most beautifully written sections can be found in the romantically haunting descriptions of Miss Peregrine’s House in Chapter Five near the beginning. This was the chapter that hooked me.

Until the end, it’s not a very action packed tale—there are not many obstacles for Jakob to overcome, other than random snooping and intellectual conversations. However, the plot devices all set-up and pay off well, where many little things included early on (for little or no reason) come around in neat and surprisingly satisfying ways.

The biggest issue with the book is there are only ten chapters in this densely margined 340+ page book, making some of the chapters over 70 pages! I was begging for a good place to take a breath, no matter how good the plot. Some sections drag, there’s no way around it, but they are few in number in my opinion. The remedy is simple: break up the chapters in logical places—which exist—so the book is a cozy but still dense 15-20 chapters.

Near the end, as a “stand alone” piece, I think I would give it 3.5 Stars. I didn’t like that some characters were being developed so late which we were all of the sudden supposed to care about. But with 75 pages to go in the book, I realized this was not going to be a solitary book, but the first installment of some series. My frustrations were mildly alleviated. Because this is the first part of what could be an amazingly original trilogy over the next few years and whose sequels could outshine the original “Miss Peregrine’s”, I’ve given it a higher star rating for personal anticipation and excitement.

There is enough here to make the next book better, without question.

This is not a “Must Read”, but after you finish those two other books you’ve been meaning to read, this is a great first attempt at a novel by Ransom Riggs.

4/5

(p.s. the first thing I thought when I was half-way done this book was “Time Burton could do this.” Well, he is. Watch out on the blogosphere and imdb.com for more info.)

MH

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