Ancient Faery lore brought into an alternate history/steampunk world? Was there any doubt that I would want to read a book with all that? Noooo. (Also the cover. Look at that cover. It's beautiful.) I'm happy to say The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann did not disappoint.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.
the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live
by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings--Peculiars--and
neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.
a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow
Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does
she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a
whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the
alley--Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.
he's noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly
magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful
Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip
through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers
Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.
Let me start by saying Bachmann can write. Oh can he ever. Exactly the right amount of description, vivid imagery, excellent plotting. The story is fast paced and, like all the best fantasies, doesn't condescend to its readers. You get your information as you need it. Which means that in the beginning the reader is confused and feels a bit jerked around (at least I did), but it doesn't matter because this perfectly reflects the feelings and knowledge of the main characters. Bachmann has created a world in which the Faeries stumbled into our world through a door that shouldn't have opened (decimating all of Bath in the process) and are now trapped. The humans and faeries have to live side by side as best they can, and their best isn't so great. A costly war decided who would be in charge. The greatest victims of this are the peculiars, half-human and half-faerie, they are hated by both groups. Most peculiars don't live to see adulthood. The politics are complicated. The Sidhe have worked their way into high government positions and are yet not content with what this world that isn't their own has to offer.
They could not forget that they had once been lords and ladies in great halls of their own. They could not forgive. The English might have won the Smiling War, but there were other ways to fight. A word could cause a riot, ink could spell a man's death, and the Sidhe knew those weapons like the backs of their hands. Oh yes, the knew.
The world building is excellent and the story one that had me longing for more from start to finish. Even at the end I longed for more. (Book two should be coming out next year!)
The story is told in third person, but shifts perspectives between the peculiar Bartholomew and a young parliament member, Arthur Jelliby. The way the story shifts (and the places it shifts) makes you want to keep reading. Both Arthur and Bartholomew are flawed characters who act in heroic ways. Despite themselves at times. The one thing that held me back from unequivocally loving the book in a passionate and intense way was that, while I found both characters likable enough, I didn't really connect with either of them emotionally. I felt a bit removed from their story until almost the very end. I'm hoping this will change with the second installment and I will love that one even more.
I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys inventive twists to old folklore or just really loves a beautifully told story.