21 August 2011

Book 26 of 2011

After a weekend trip away for my wife's birthday, I finished reading this the day we got home.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

26) Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
There are a number of ways to describe the plot of the book, as it borrows some familiar tropes from an array of different well-known series. It's two parts X-Men with a little Harry Potter, factored in with a little Chronicles of Narnia, set around World War II, all meant to eventually lay itself out as a longer form series. Additionally, Ransom Riggs employs a cool gimmick of utilizing found photographs, some of which have been slightly altered to further the purposes of the story, but all of which are, to borrow a phrase, peculiar.

The story begins in the present and follows Jacob Portman, a kid that's not too close to anyone except his grandfather and isn't motivated to do much in his life since his parents are well-off. A tragedy sends him searching for the truth behind stories he used to hear as a young boy and leads him to the titular home. Sprinkled throughout the first person narrative are photographs that Jacob mentions; either he remembers them from some point in his past or he finds them over the course of the story. The photographs are a big aspect of the story, but they also don't overwhelm it, which is a nice touch. Many of them depict the peculiar children in question from the title, as Riggs uses the term in such a way that it could just as easily be a placeholder for metahuman, superpower or mutant.

My favorite depiction of superpowers or larger-than-life, CGI-necessary events in television and film is found footage. Whether that means that an in-universe news show broadcasts a battle caught by a cameraman or, better yet, cell phone, or it's a Cloverfield-style, "shakey" cam point of view of monsters on the loose, I like the realism involved with showing how people would react to the events going on around them. Miss Peregrine's captures this same idea through photographs that sometimes capture the children demonstrating their abilities. Also, Riggs' use of the device fleshes out some of the characters in ways that are helpful and never too distracting.

As for the story itself, this is a really interesting premise for a series of books with a story that will depend on further installments to measure whether or not this first chapter works. The possibilities for the eventual series are promising, leaving a lot of doors open for where the characters can go but does so at the sacrifice of resolution for this particular book. Some of the events follow a predictable path, and that's not a complaint. I'd much rather something be predictable and good than be unpredictable and mediocre. Additionally, the love story goes from creepy to endearing and does so organically, resolving itself in a bittersweet but fulfilling way.

The only real complaint that stood out and kept me from fully immersing myself in the world was the narration. Since the story is told in first person and Jacob establishes himself as a 16 year old smart ass from the outset, it's hard to buy some of his descriptions of the perfect Irish countryside and the changeover Miss Peregrine implements. Jacob's voice switches from that of a 16 year old marveling at his surroundings or fearing for his life to that of an author describing these things for him under the guise of Jacob the character. That might sound a bit like nitpicking, but that's because Jacob has some distinctive insight (especially into the man his father has become due to the life his apparently wayward grandfather led) while still sounding like a teenager, so his flowery descriptions of other things appear off in a lot of ways.

However, this is a really awesome first novel and first entry into what will hopefully be a larger and more interesting world as time goes on.

OH! And another thing! What's up with the creepy clown twins?! Jacob discusses their picture, but I don't remember him meeting them at all, and I was hoping for their menacing and frightening ribbon eating to somehow get explained so they didn't freak me out every time I looked at them. Man, talk about a picture of my nightmares.

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