Has Ransom Riggs written the next Harry Potter? No, but his first novel, a YA fantasy, has won him bestseller status and a movie deal, and he clearly wrote it with the intention of launching a sequel. Indeed, he wrote it a little too clearly with the intent of launching a sequel.
The book has been illustrated with and was partially inspired by creepy old photographs of the sort found in faded cardboard boxes in second-hand book stores and antique barns, pressed between pages of books and lost behind wooden desks.
Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Original Publication Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1 and 1594744769
After the death of his eccentric grandfather, a teenage boy learns that the bizarre tales the man once told were true. On a remote Welsh island, he visits the decrepit ruins of Miss Peregrine’s secret school, and realizes the peculiar children she tends may still be alive, and that danger and adventure awaits him,
The novel begins with sinister foreboding, as some dark unknown world creeps into the more familiar one. I especially liked how Riggs used those photographs and childhood stories to set the stage. Both have plausible alternative explanations, but we know from the start that—somehow— these things will prove real.
The discovery that sets the plot in motion and Jacob’s first foray into the home provide the suspenseful high points of the book; it’s a pity they occur so soon.
Once our protagonist learns the secret of the school, however, the story turns into a rather predictable fantasy, and much of the novel’s sinister edge vanishes. The story hits some new and interesting developments in the final chapter—only to reveal itself as an extended prologue to a forthcoming series, with no resolution in this volume.
Originality: 2/6. Other writers have used vintage and antique photos in their novels, but this may be a first for fantasy. Otherwise, this is Harry Potter meets : X-Men in the Addams Family Mansion, with the bad Peculiars out to get the good Peculiars. As a bonus, we have time-travel—introduced mainly so it can form a part of the future books.
Story: 3/6 The story begins slowly, features some page-turning developments, and then fails to resolve.
Characterization: 3/6. This is my other weak point. We get a good sense of Jacob’s character, and we gradually realize the truth about his grandfather. Some other characters have been developed, but we get far less a sense of them than we should. Many of the Peculiar Children can barely be distinguished, save for a particular ability.
Imagery: 5/6. The book does feature some well-crafted descriptions, and Riggs creates a strong sense of setting:
The trees parted like a curtain and suddenly there it was, cloaked in fog, looming atop a weed-choked hill. The house. I understood at once why the boys had refused to come.
My grandfather had described it a hundred times, but in his stories, the house was always a bright, happy place—big and rambling, yes but full of light and laughter. What stood before me now was no refuge from monsters, but a monster itself, staring down from its perch with vacant hunger. Trees burst forth from broken windows and skins of scabrous vine gnawed at the walls like antibodies attacking a virus–as if nature itself had waged war against it—but the house seemed unkillable, resolutely upright despite the wrongness of its angles and the jagged teeth of sky visible through sections of collapsed roof. (78-79)
Emotional Response: 4/6.
Overall Score: 4/6.
In total, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children receives 26/42