The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Into The Wild (review of The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry)

The Peculiars
Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Abrams and Chronicle 2012

Lena Mattacascar is your average city girl with average city problems – her estranged father is still causing friction between her family years after his exit, she is beginning to think that her mother inviting her gran to live with them was a big mistake, she is struggling to find a sense of self as she approaches her 18th birthday and she has a nagging feeling that she may be part goblin.  Okay, so not exactly average. 

After Lena’s father leaves the family in rather strange circumstances when she is a child, not a word is heard from him. Then, on her 18th birthday, she is presented with a letter from her father explaining, all be it very briefly, the actions that he took all those years before and his reasons behind them.  Learning that he had travelled to the wild lands of Scree, Lena decides to follow in the hope of finding her father and answers to so many questions – Had he stopped loving them?  Are her Gran’s references to him as a goblin simply a turn of phrase? And are the extra knuckles in each of her fingers and toes really a birth defect or something more peculiar?  Cue a good ol’ fashioned road trip.  We follow Lena’s journey from the comfort of her city home into the wild outlands and encounter the expected rag tag bunch of acquaintances along the way – providing the perfect mirror for Lena’s inner journey from lost child to self-assured young woman. 

McQuerry includes an equally engaging secondary plot line - the growing government persecution of the “peculiars” – a section of society who have genetic abnormalities ranging from heightened senses and telepathy to goblinsim and the ability to fly.  As Lena sets off on her journey, the oppression of these people comes to a climax with all known Peculiars being required, by law, to move to the lands of Scree.  During the course of the story, this movement of people and the fight for the return of their rights comes to affect Lena, and her search, more than the reader first expects. 
The successful union of historical accuracy, steam-punk detailing and x-men-esq genetic mutation is really what makes this work unique.  Otherwise, unfortunately, we are treading a fairly well-worn path and we are provided with no real surprises in terms of secondary characters or plot devices.  Whilst the plot did keep me interested throughout, the pacing was often unbalanced which lead to a rushed ending leaving the reader unsatisfied and harbouring a nagging worry that a sequel may be just over the horizon.  

McQuerry’s detailing and imagery, however, really blew me away.  From gas-lamp lit train carriages to beach side carousels, I could almost smell the sea air from very early on, providing a distinct sense of time and place which is often hard to find in works of young adult fictionIt’s unfortunate that this alone was not enough to drive The Peculiars to the heights that it aspired to reach.   Whilst still a fairly enjoyable read, The Peculiars is just not peculiar enough to achieve the levels of success which were undeniably possible.

This review has been brought to you by Polka Dot Steph.  The Peculiars is available in bookstores now. Thank you to Abrams and Chronicle for providing a copy for review purposes.         
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