The Peculiars — Maureen Doyle McQuerry

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This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance. On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.

Lena Mattacascar has always been different. She tells people she has a birth defect and hides the truth: she’s half-goblin. At least, that’s what her doctor, mother, and grandmother believe. They claim the source of the goblinism is her father, but he disappeared a long time ago. When Lena turns eighteen, she decides to seek her father out and demand answers. On her way to Scree — supposedly a haven for “Peculiars,” people who are different, like Lena — Lena meets Jimson Quiggley, a librarian traveling to Knob Knoster, the town right outside Scree. The two strike up a quick friendship and Lena eventually finds herself working alongside Jimson for the mysterious Mr. Beasley, a man claimed to conduct experiments on Peculiars. When Lena meets Thomas Saltre, a marshal who asks her to spy on Mr. Beasley for the sake of her country, Lena is unsure who to trust.

For some reason, I just couldn’t connect to The Peculiars. In the beginning, I was excited by the idea of ‘Peculiars’ and Lena’s adventure to Knob Knoster quickly grabbed my attention. She’s a strong, independent girl with a lot of questions about herself that promise to lead to exciting answers. The alternate 1800s setting of The Peculiars is equally as interesting as Lena and her unique features. But while all the elements of the story are interesting, the action isn’t. It develops so slowly that I had to force myself to finish each chapter. On the plus side, the chapters are short and easy to read through. The downside: there are a lot of them.

I think my main problem with The Peculiars is that I was expecting it to be someone else. The cover, though intriguing, is misleading. Lena does not have wings and winged individuals play a very small role in the book. In fact, the Peculiars themselves play an oddly insignificant role. The book centers more around Lena’s journey to a new place and her struggle to accept herself. But I wanted to know so much more about the Peculiars! I wanted to know why these people existed, how many of them existed, the different types of Peculiars, and what it was like to have these sorts of unique qualities. Lena’s own “deformities” — an extra joint on each finger and toe — are the least fascinating compared to the other Peculiars. Since the book doesn’t really seem to be about the Peculiars, I’d expect it to at least solve the mystery of Lena’s father’s disappearance. But even though Lena’s questions about her father seem to be the driving force of the book, we never actually receive the answers to these questions, leaving the ending absurdly anticlimactic.

Despite the problems I had with The Peculiars, it’s not a bad book. It’s well-written and very different from anything I’ve ever read. I was excited for the steampunk elements, but I expected them to be played up much more. The inventions are there, but their role is even more miniscule than those of the Peculiars. Still, McQuerry’s descriptions of some of Mr. Beasley’s inventions are gripping and thorough, which further establishes the uniqueness of the setting. Lena is an average character — I didn’t feel much for her, but I didn’t dislike her. The romantic tension is too underplayed for the ending to feel deserved, but it’s still kind of cute.

Overall, I had higher expectations for The Peculiars, but it’s still an interesting read. For those sick of the same-old, The Peculiars might interest you. As far as I know, there’s nothing like it in the YA genre. The steampunk elements add an interesting flair and for those sick of books revolving around a lovesick girl and her undeserving love interest, The Peculiars is sure to end the monotony. Though the book is marketed as a romance, it really isn’t. The ending feels rushed and kind of tacked on, but that may just be because I didn’t really connect with the characters.

Pages: 354
Publication Date: May 2012
Publisher: Amulet Books
Source: NetGalley
Rating [rating: 3]

Teaser Quote: “Maybe it was only goblin women who were restless and wanted to see the world. She didn’t know.