Retro review! Well…not really.
Because I’ve not been posting much for a while, am still a hundred pages from finishing my current book, and I’m going to be away from the internet this weekend (staying at my big sister’s new cottage), I thought I should probably put something else up. Still working on that ‘women in superhero comics’ post but I keep descending into righteous anger so, until I can work that into something coherent that I’m happy to post, you get this instead: a review of a book I read last year.
Originally posted on Goodreads before my dissertation hibernation as a response to it appearing on my recommendations feed when I signed up. The rating, and small differences in the body of the text are due to me and Goodreads having different rating systems that mean I have to edit a little to crosspost (and also it really needed editing).
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pages: 352 (Hardback)
Series: Miss Peregrine #1
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children“, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive. A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
The blurb…it liiiiiies!
Although, as a fan of ‘adventures in the shadows’, I was most certainly not ‘delighted’ by this book, I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, I’ll give it that, but it was a total mess. Two stars, however because lurking in the first few chapters there was the potential for a good book – if only the author had been more concerned with writing a good story than showing off his pictures.
The book’s Wikipedia page says ‘This children’s book was originally intended to be a picture book featuring photographs Riggs had collected, but on the advice of an editor at Quirk Books, he used the photographs as a guide from which to put together a narrative.’ and you can tell. You can really, really, tell. The photographs aren’t used to illustrate the story so much as the plot is stretched out of shape to incorporate the pictures. The especially sad thing about this is that I would have loved the original concept – it was the photographs that drew me into buying this book and disappointment at the mangled plot that made me donate it to charity.
The writing actually starts off well enough. For the first few chapters I was hooked, I even recommended it to my younger sister who hardly ever reads. It was tense, atmospheric, and the use of photographs – presented as once belonging to the protagonists recently deceased grandfather – made sense. However once the protagonist reaches the Welsh island he thinks will hold the answers to all his questions about his grandfather the plot takes a turn into WTFery.
The irritating clichédness of the setting – a bleak windswept island that’s barely heard of modern technology – and the even more irritating superior attitude of the American protagonist who has heard of modern technology (such out of reach places do exist, afterall, as do annoying Americans) are the least of this book’s problems. When the plot decided to take a bizarre turn from creepy and atmospheric children’s-horror – which was what it had been sold as – to a time travelling romance with kiddy X-Men is when I really lost enthusiasm.
The use of pictures became increasingly poorly justified as they shift away from ones that were part of the Grandad’s collection, and it soon became clear that the photographs were a crutch for both the plot and the writing. The only times there seemed to be detailed description it seemed to be based of a photograph that would appear on the next page. In-between these photos was well…not very much really, the bare minimum of writing and imagination to carry through the story to the next photograph. And then consistency issues within the pictures themselves started to appear too – I gave my book to charity so I can’t double-check, but the protagonist’s love interest looked like a different person in each of the photograph she appeared in and none of them matched the protagonists repeated textual description of her as ‘totally hot’ (maybe I’m just being shallow there though, and if I’m wrong about it being a different girl in each do correct me).
After a very promising start the middle section was dragged out and dull – a cross between Tom’s Midnight Garden (without the charm) and X-Men (without the excitement), with an unnecessary dose of disturbing romance thrown in for good measure. Then along came the ending; an info-dump and an anti-climax leading to a ‘to be continued’. Thanks, but no thanks, the gimmick couldn’t be sustained past the half way point of one book, let alone prop up a whole series.
Now because I feel bad giving a debut author such a bad rating so some positives:
I really enjoyed the first few chapters; the depiction of a grieving teenager with post-traumatic-stress was well done right up until the point they got to cliché Bleak-Welsh-Island. If Riggs hadn’t committed himself so hard into stringing along a plot purely to including his favourite photographs, he could probably have written something quite good (or better than this at least). Maybe Riggs will redeem himself with the next book in this series, I for one won’t be reading it though.