The Peculiar – by Stefan Bachmann
Sometime around the 19th century, the faeries came to England. “Goblins and satyrs, gnomes, sprites and the elegant, spindly white beings with their black, black eyes.” The Smiling War between the humans and the fae was so-called because of the sheer number of grinning, white skulls it left behind in the fields. But in the end even the faeries’ magic was no match for the numbers of red-coated soldiers sent against them with cannon and gunpowder, and the remaining Hidden People were relocated to Bath, where they would live in slums, defeated and ostracised. After a time, they became simply another facet of England, living in the cities, “no worse off than the thousands of human poor that toiled by their side.” But the high faeries, the Sidhe, were by no means satisfied with their lot. They bided their time, plotting and patient.
I can hardly tell you how much I adored this book. It is without a doubt the best new young adult fantasy book I’ve come across this year, for a myriad of reasons.
Firstly, while fae have been explored in a lot of books recently, I’ve not seen it combined with a modern steampunk society before, wherein clockwork has been found to act “as a sort of antidote” to faerie magic. It’s original and perfectly executed.
Secondly, the language throughout this novel is exquisite. The names are wonderful: one of our protagonists is a Mr Arthur Jelliby, and the other Bartholemew Kettle. We also meet a John Wednesday Lickerish, an Earl of Fitzwatler (complete with a Walrus moustache), a Lord Lillicrapp, a Mr Throgmorton and (wait for it) an Xerxes Yardley Zerubbabel. Amazing.
The writing itself is also outstanding. Bachmann has ethereal descriptions of the ordinary nestling together with completely matter-of-fact observations of the extraordinary. He is equally adept at fitting his language to the chilling, the hilarious and the tragic, and uses smells and sounds as well as sights to paint an engrossing scene. I very rarely take notes as I’m reading, but in this case I couldn’t help myself, I have pages and pages of gorgeous language scrawled down. I’ll limit myself to only a few examples…
“That was the blank, disbelieving face of someone with so much grief locked up inside her that she didn’t know what to do with it, someone with a barb in her heart no amount of crying or screaming could ever dull.” (Page 43)
“He owed it to her to do something. He supposed he could rescue her. Very subtly, of course. There was no need to be all gallant about it.” (Page 64)
“Honey-coloured light drifted down from the slit of sky. Across the way, the Buddelbinster’s house stood hunched around itself.” (Page 43)
Ah, I could do that all day. But I still need to tell you about the third reason I loved this book, namely the characterisation. Arthur Jelliby is priceless – he’s an absolutely lovely upper class British gentleman who works in government. All he wants is to be uninformed and uninfluential, affable and overlooked. His greatest dread is having to know dangerous things, because he might then be forced to do something about it; which is indeed the case. Bartholemew is sweet and naive, brave and loyal, optimistic and not nearly jaded enough to reflect his upbringing. The two make a great, reluctant duo and are the cornerstone of this incredible tale.
This book is a must-read. Seriously: do it. You won’t regret discovering Stefan Bachmann’s world. I lived there for only a day in real time, but it feels like I’ve known his characters for a lifetime. A phenomenal debut.
Steampunk. Faerie. An incredible cast, a wonderfully vivid world, an amazing adventure. Please read this one, okay??