Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

I sometimes have the pleasure of being sent a book for review that doesn't fit with www.popularscience.co.uk and cover it here. In this case I've got the double pleasure of both a review and a short interview with the author.

The book in question, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been very popular in the US and should do brilliantly over here. It's the kind of fantasy that I've always found particularly appealing - one that is set in the real world, but where some strangely different things occur. In this case it's peculiar (in the sense of strangely gifted) children, living on a island off Wales, and strange manipulation of time. But despite the author noting at the back of the book that he consulted a 'leading authority on time travel,' the time travel aspects bear no resemblance to the real physical possibilities for time travel, which is one of the reasons I label this fantasy - you've just got with it and ignore the obvious impracticalities and lack of sense.

It's a very atmospheric read, on a par with some of my all time favourites. This is particularly strong in the first part of the book before the main 'reveal' - I wish the author had kept this back until later, as once everything was explained you lost some of the tension. Even so the story continues in an excellent fashion. The only other slight complaint I have is that the book doesn't really finish - it was clearly written with a sequel in mind and is more the first part of a book than a real, standalone novel.

What sets this apart from other books of its ilk is the use of photographs. The author has made use of a pile of strange photographs, mostly Victorian/Edwardian and incorporates these wonderfully into the story. Although this might pale in future books, and I hope he has another trick up his sleeve, for this book it really was a wonderful extra, adding hugely to the atmosphere. Take a look at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
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I can't say much more about the book without giving too much away - I'd only say it is one of the few YA fantasy novels I've read in the past 20 years (including the Harry Potter books) that really deserves to be in the hall of fame with the likes of the books I compare it to below. So, over to author Ransom Riggs:

Did seeing some weird photos inspire writing a book, or did the idea of writing a book this way inspire you to look for photos?

The pictures came first. I brought them to my publisher, Quirk Books, and told my editor there that I thought I had something interesting, all these creepy pictures of kids from years and years ago. He suggested I use them to write a novel, and I, having never written one before, was surprised that he had that much faith in me – it opened up all kinds of possibilities in my mind, and I went off and developed the story, and feverishly began to collect still more photos to use, and it went from there. But yeah, the pictures were the initial impetus for the story.

More specifically, were the photos used in the book the inspiration for those aspects of the story, or did you have the storyline in mind and look for appropriate photos?

I really used the photos as inspiration for the kids’ characters. I treated my collection of pictures almost like headshots in a casting call for a movie, and when it was time to introduce a new character I’d look through my photos and see who I wanted to invent. It was a lot of fun, a really new experience for me. Sometimes, though, I'd find an amazing photo and fit the story around it; other times, I'd have a story idea that cried out for a certain photo to go along with it, so I'd go out searching for something specific. That's a lot harder, though -- it's all about luck!

Why Wales?

I was looking for a country that most American readers wouldn’t know a lot about, but also where people speak English, and that hadn’t been done to death in fantasy fiction (not counting Arthurian legends), like Ireland has. And I have some Welsh ancestors, or so I'm told, so it seemed a natural fit!

What I really loved about the book was a similar feel to two of my favourite classic YA fantasy novels: A Wrinkle in Time and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Did you have any favourites when younger?

Oh, definitely. I loved all the Narnia books, and The Secret Garden -- I must've re-read that fifty times. Stories about people like you and me opening doors to find secret worlds. And since I couldn't find any actual secret worlds when I was a kid, I guess that's why I looked for them in books, or wrote them myself, in short stories and things.

Without giving too much plot away, given the choice, would you stay in a loop?

It can be pretty isolating -- maybe if I found just the right people to spend pseudo-eternity with. But while I would like to live a very long time, I don't think I need to live forever. So no! Unless horrible monsters were chasing me, of course.


  1. This sounds right up my street! Off to check it out on Amazon this very minute. Thanks, Brian.

  2. Thanks, Sara - I think you'll like it, especially the photos!


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