Reviewed by Ola Zaltin
Los Angeles, city of devils: a very excited agent pitches the latest, hottest, most sellable, teen-specific demographic epic franchise story ever! “A young boy lives a normal dreary suburban life in Nowhereville, Florida, USA! He’s told of wild and daring adventures his ancestors had and given a mission to go on his own, world-saving quest! However, he declines, not thinking himself worthy? Then, earth-shattering events take place that make him take up the metaphorical sword and venture out into an unknown world of friends, foes, allies, mentors, shapeshifters - and much derring do!" The producers salivate, what could this possibly be?! A Floridian Harry Potter? A Luke Skywalker in the ‘burbs? Katniss Everdeen’s lil’ bro in the Keys?
Well, yes, pretty much. First-time author Ransom Riggs's (let’s hope that’s a pen-name) novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children charts an all-too familiar road, arc and story-line to anyone even remotely familiar with films like above alluded to and their endless spinoffs - and wearisome if having read Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his disciple Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. The protagonist is a solitary kind of fella, doesn’t feel at home in his own skin, let alone his home. Check. Has dreams of grandeur and premonitions of other worlds. Check. When adventure beckons, he shies away from it. Check. But at an obligatory point of no return he takes up the challenge and ventures out into the unknown and - yawn.
That being said, the breath of fresh air here is the way Mr. Riggs has constructed the book. It is built around a series of genuine collector’s photos from the the start of the 20th century, with the story evidently inspired by and developed around these images. It works surprisingly well, and adds to the tale in unexpected ways, both emotional and imaginary. (The one glaring mistake being a hand-drawing of the Monster. This reader had conjured up a vile thing from 101 movies, times ten and genuinely was chilled, thrilled and uneasy and then turned the page and saw a crude charcoal sketch of a man with a bunch of over size maggots in his mouth. Yucky, but not in any way scary. Thus reversing the old adage in writing of show don’t tell, to: stop showing and just tell me the darn story and let me make up my own mental horrors.)
The story is well written, engaging and although there is not one single surprise along the way and you can guess every turn of events 20 pages in advance, it’s an enjoyable adventure with a new twist on the centuries-old fable of the boy and the sword and his inner turmoils. A great Christmas gift for a teenager with an curious mind.
Long before the ending you just know there’s going to be a huge hook for a sequel and of course there is. Mr Riggs’s second novel in the series is due to be published in January 2014 with Tim Burton attached to direct the film of the first book (here reviewed) and the redoubtable Jane Goldman scriptwriting. Why am I not surprised?