The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann (Greenwillow, Sept. 2012)-Stefan Bachmann started writing The Peculiar in 2010, when he was only 16. You’re probably asking yourself, how can a 16 year old have the maturity and wherewithal to write an accomplished fantasy, right? Well, this one did. Changeling Bartholomew Kettle lives with his mother and his sister Hettie on Old Crow Alley in the faery slums of New Bath, a Bath transformed many years ago by the Smiling War, in which faery alighted on England and the British army promptly shot them down, rounded up the remainder, and put them to work in the factories. Now keep in mind, upon their arrival, the fay unceremoniously slaughtered many troops brutally in the night, prompting swift retaliation. Either way, the fay, and their magic, were in England to stay, the door to their home closed for good. Or was it?
Changeling children are being murdered in New Bath, and Parliament member Arthur Jelliby, to his horror, overhears something that may have to do with the murders. Until then, his life has been orderly and structured and all he really wants to do is spend time with his lovely wife, Ophelia, and sleep in every now and then. For Mr. Jelliby, and for Bartholomew and Hettie, life is about to get much more exciting, and dangerous. Who is murdering the changeling children, and why? Mr. Jelliby and Bartholomew join forces to find out and it makes for an adventure not be missed.
I adored this fantastic, magical fantasy from start to breathtaking finish. Bartholomew considers himself ugly, and very much an outsider, made harder by the fact that he and little Hettie must be kept hidden away from those that would hurt them for being changelings. I fell in love with Barthy, but it was delicate Hettie that stole my heart with her pointed ears, big round eyes, and the branches of a young tree sprouting from her head in place of hair. Barthy is lonely and desperate for friendship and although he loves his mother and sister, he longs for a more exciting life, one where he is accepted for who he is. He gains a friend and ally in Mr. Jelliby, who discovers he has a capacity for bravery that he never knew existed. The author gives us a formidable villain in the diabolical Mr. Lickerish, and his wondrous and creepy version of Bath, with its faery denizens and their terrible beauty makes for an immersive and magical reading experience. When fate throws Barthy in the path of terrible evil, he more than rises to the occasion, especially when Hettie is put in mortal danger. It’s a race against time to save her, and indeed, save New Bath. The Peculiar is, put simply, a near perfect fantasy from a very gifted debut author.