|Title: The Peculiars
Author: Maureen Doyle McQueery
Cover Art: N/A
Genre: Historical Steampunk YA
Reviewed by: Julia
Okay – A few good points, but with significant flaws. Library/swap/borrow if you want.
This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance. On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.
THE PECULIARS was a book of great potential that offered alternate history, fantastical creatures, and technology. The heroine’s core was unique and well-written, from her own insecurities to her very real physical differences. The racist and colonialist attitudes of citizens towards the Peculiars of Scree made for a compelling frame around McQuerry’s steampunk fantasy, but predictable character behaviors and a disappointing ending overwhelmed my initial excitement about this book.
Lena was originally one of my favorite parts of the story. Genuinely “other”, with her large feet and extra-jointed fingers, she was a compelling and unusual heroine. Sheltered and insecure, it was her own self-esteem issues that was the core of her adventure. Lena heads to Scree to face the fear that has haunted her her entire life, and I loved the contradiction of her doubts and actions. Unfortunately, this auspicious start was followed by a litany of silly choices that thrust her and her companions further and further into danger. None of the consequences of her actions are even slightly surprising, which made her all the more exasperating as a heroine. It became impossible for me to enjoy, let alone have patience, for Lena’s experiences, as she failed to surprise me in any way after her initial introduction. Lucky for Lena, she was framed by interesting world building that deftly combined fantasy, alternate history, and steampunk. That got me to story’s end… only to have this carefully crafted world crumble into a flat and unsatisfying ending.
There have been times when world building manages to compensate for frustrating characters or a disappointing ending, but even the fantastic technology and biology of THE PECULIARS couldn’t overwhelm both my dislike of Lena’s glacially slow learning curve and that contrived conclusion. I enjoyed the initial premise of this book, and I’ll definitely remember parts of this steampunk frontier world fondly, but I wish McQuerry had taken the time to craft a more satisfying arc for Lena and ending for all of her characters. Though the relationships and painful medicine of this book aren’t particularly childlike, I think only young readers will be able to enjoy the air rifles and Scree cats of McQuerry’s world without growing impatient with its inhabitants or ending.