Mysterious and entertaining,
This review is from: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children) (Hardcover)
Though they say never judge a book by its cover, I have to admit that I was taken in by the grim-faced little girl on the jacket. Her face, distorted by a scowl that makes her look disturbingly aged, spoke of something deeply spooky and spine-tingling. I absolutely adored how this visual eerieness was carried on throughout with the addition of FANTASTIC vintage photos. When I discovered that they were all real and not created for the book I was just bowled over with the depth of research that has clearly gone into them - even if they have been photoshopped. Seeing as Ransom Riggs is a filmmaker it's unsurprising that he's brought this visual element into his work, and having checked out his website since reading the book I've discovered he's an avid collector of these photos, a passion that shows in his careful choices. (I am now considering buying his book in which he's compiled vintage photos with written descriptions on the back).
The opening to the book was as wonderfully chilling and mysterious as these photos. How can you fail to be captivated by a child in awe of a family history he hasn't quite fully grasped - the separation in history between him and his grandfather is just enough to give that sense of murky times gone by, which just deepends the mystery. There is a great subtlety to the opening too, nothing is certain, we cannot be sure what is real and what is not. There is a wonderful sense of a true psychological terror, born out of the horrors of the second world war and the loss of family, and a physical terror - something real, waiting to pounce from the shadows.
When Jacob rediscovers the weird photos his grandfather used to show him as a child, they become the catalyst for the real adventure to begin. The small Welsh island that Jacob travels to (where his grandfather lived in a home - apparently where he met the strange subjects in the photos) is charmingly and vividly detailed. You get a great sense of true small-town isolation and that building sense of impending doom that often infiltrates such remote rural locations (particularly in horror films, which may also be due to the authior's filmmaking background perhaps?)
Without giving anything away, his first few trips to his grandfather's home, now falling apart and stuffed full of crumbling relics, is incredibly tense. I kept expecting something terrifying to happen, which is just as, or perhaps even more scary than it actually happening. His first meeting with its residents also left me feeling quite spooked! After this however, I feel that it starts to get a bit more 'safe', the characters become something lesser after their 'peculiarity' mentioned in the title is explained in full. I felt that the plot and the characters could have retained some of the darkness hinted at so brilliantly in the opening and in the photos, but almost as soon as Jacob meets them they're just completely unscary children, albeit with some special powers.
This is also when the lines between the inner and outer fears become stark again. The subtlety of the opening fades away, and we are left with only the real monsters, which are almost less scary than the monsters in your head. I know this is young adult fiction, but it felt suddenly much more child-like at this point, the intricacies and character insights of the first half giving way to almost pure plot development. Still, it is an exciting plot! The adventure itself is wholly engrossing, and I definitely wanted to know what happened at the end - which has to be the mark of a something good! It ended promisingly too, things were rounded off enough to keep the reader content, but left hanging just enough to hint at a sequel... I'll be reading that if and when it happens and hoping that it follows the style of the first half of the book, rather than the second.