There's always a worry when you're really looking forward to a book that it's going to disappoint you. And not just disappoint you, but crushyou simplThere's always a worry when you're really looking forward to a book that it's going to disappoint you. And not just disappoint you, but crush you simply because you were so looking forward to it. I was really looking forward to this. Like, probably more than anything else this year. And thank you Sweet Baby Cheesus, it was worth every bit of my anticipation and book-coveting.
Sometimes you pick up a book and you know, you just know that you are probably going to end up reading every thing that author ever writes, and buying some of it without even knowing what it's about. I'm putting Laini Taylor on that short-list. She is a wordsmith, and though yes, there are times when I feel it's too much and it's over-written, the fact is that most of the time, I am glorying in every word, every single syllable, every dead-on beautiful line of it, and feeling half-jealous that I didn't write each particular turn of phrase - and I'm not even an author. It's that type of writing. Not flawless, but gorgeous.
But it's one thing to write something well, and I do believe good writing can make an otherwise mediocre story worthwhile and in some cases, even a favorite. But this is a good story, too! It could so easily have been another drop in the overflowing bucket of sameness that paranormal YA has become. But it's like Laini Taylor looked at all of the books out there that have done star-crossed love and supernatural elements and said "How can I do this right?" So much of it - I'm sorry to say - is forgettable. It's been done (often not all that well). It's beige. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a pop of raspberry pink in a sea of beige. (Or a blue feather mask, I guess.) It stands out from the crowd because the writing and the story are so good. She's taken a story that people could say "It's been done" about, and she's made it better. She's set the benchmark; it's one-upmanship at its finest, to which I say kudos.
It has that epic quality that a lot of authors try for - love, heartbreak, betrayal, loss, hope - and it actually hits the mark. It very rarely feels grandiose or melodramatic. It feels organic and true, even when it's treading very close to those YA books that make you roll your eyes. It's all backed up with real emotion and thinking characters, and it's lovely. There's heft and meat to every bit of it. It's palpable.
I am absolutely enamored of the world-building in this. Most of the book takes place on Earth (in Prague) and the scene is set really well. But by the time a second world comes into play (and I'm not going to talk too much about that), even though a majority of the book takes place in Prague, the 2nd world was so visual and so fully realized that I forgot Earth was ever even a part of it. I became so immersed in this other world and it's creatures and cultures that it felt as if it had made up the majority of the book and the world-building. The shift was effortless and almost all-consuming. I loved it. And the mythology that supports it all is thorough and spot on. It plays off of what we think of as angels and devils, and twists it with the addition of what they think of each other, and the reality of what they really are. Even at its most fantastic, it is still very human and relatable, grounded in what we know and expect from human nature. It all coalesces into something that feels very real and fraught with history and pain and, most importantly, hope. Very, very well done.
And then you cap it all off with romance(ish). This is where so many books of this type tank. I very rarely buy into romances, especially those of the sudden and all-consuming variety. This one especially could have easily missed the mark. It has the pang of great tragedy; Karou and Akiva are star-crossed loves and all that jazz, and I am heartless and merciless in matters such as this. If I roll my eyes (if I even blink especially adamantly) it's over. But they are not star-crossed in a woe-is-me, self-centered way, but in that layered and believable way where there are legitimate things, prejudices and betrayals and pain and loss, standing in their way. It's a physical presence between them, and it's crushing. You feel so much for them, and you try to have hope, but you also have delicious doubt, and what does that give us but TENSION and OH MY GOD I talk about lack of tension in so many reviews and how it makes the reader feel cheated and here is someone nailing it and LAINI TAYLOR WILL YOU MARRY ME?
In some ways, I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I love the title/cover combo, or because I love the idIn some ways, I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because I love the title/cover combo, or because I love the idea behind it, or because quirky can sometimes go horribly, horribly wrong; whatever the reason, I was kind of bracing to be let down in this one. And since it reads a little dispassionately in the beginning, I had a hard time staying engaged and thought my doom-and-gloom expectations were going to be - well, satisfied doens't seem like the right word... But I thought I was going to be disappointed, and I wasn't. (yay!)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is intensely creative and unique, consistently giving me things I wasn't expecting. This is not to say I didn't have issues with the book, because I did. Though I love the idea of using quirky, odd photos to help narrate the story, there were certainly times when those photos seemed more forced on the story than supplemental to it. There were times, too, where it just felt so damned over-written. I just wanted to say, 'Pull back a little, buddy. One metaphor is fine.' And as I said, it sometimes felt a little dispassionate. But neither of these was a consistent problem, and the times when the book or the tone was nailed far outweighed the times when they were not.
I think this is one of those books that you should know going in whether you are going to like it. If you know that you like things a little quirky, a little dark, a little macabre and a whole lot strange, then yes, you are going to enjoy this. (If you don't, you probably won't.) The characters the reader is introduced to certainly live up to their moniker of peculiar. Some are just mildly shocking ala a circus freak show, and some are downright unsettling...(view spoiler)[I'm talking about you, boy who makes little clay golems, then brings them to life with mouse hearts and makes them fight each other (hide spoiler)] There's a creepy "off" tone to a lot of what goes on, and the threat of violence and being, you know, hunted down and eaten, so yeah, it's a good Halloween read for sure. ;P
What I loved, though, was getting things I didn't expect. It's rare for a book to surprise me, and this one did so pretty consistently. There were some great lines and bits of unexpected description that just tickled me and had me pulling out my post-its tabs*. And there were characters and relationships among them that I did not see coming, and aspects of the villains that I didn't see coming (and I am rarely surprised or pleased by a villain). Most of all, though, I was surprised by the whole plot and who it all works together. Beyond the expected elements of horror and mystery, there is romance and history and - something I can't get into it without being very spoilery - there was a crucial element to the plot, hinging on an ability of the titular Miss Peregrine, that I just did not see coming. And I loved it.
And I sort of feel like that's all I can say without starting to give some major things away. As most people know now, there will be a second book (which, though it could be read and work as a stand-alone, I think a 2nd book was a bit of a given), and there will be a movie. <---- And this I am very eager for, as I kept picturing scenes while I was reading. It's very visual and some elements of the setting I just cannot wait to see onscreen. There is a sense of wonder that I hope they can catch and even expand on.
Oh, and I love the design of the book. I know it's silly, but it gets points. Almost everything about the design is just a little tiny bit different than other books, showing that thought went in to nearly every aspect of it, from the very squared-off binding to the end papers and chapter-pages, etc. It's nice, that level of thought and attention to detail. I approve.
*"But beyond all that, above the houses and fields and sheep doddering around like puffs of cotton candy, I could see tongues of dense fog licking over the ridge in the distance, where this world ended and the next one began, cold, damp, and sunless." Though a bit overwritten, I just adored the image of the 'sheep doddering around like puffs of cotton candy.' ;) ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
When this popped up on Goodreads toward the end of last year, I thought 'Ooh, that's a cool title, picture's kinda neat' and that was tJust under a 5.
When this popped up on Goodreads toward the end of last year, I thought 'Ooh, that's a cool title, picture's kinda neat' and that was the end of it for awhile. I didn't think it was going to be a gotta-have for me. And then during Fairy Tale Fortnight, Bonnie wrangled us an interview with The Near Witch author Victoria Schwab... I hadn't realized The Near Witch had a sort of fairy tale/folkloric element! Add to that the fantasticness of the interview, how much Victoria amuses me on Twitter, and her incredibly awesome author photo, and my interest shot through the roof. So when I Disney Hyperion gave me the opportunity to review The Near Witch, my response was a very polite HELL YES.
Excuse me for a moment while I take this opportunity to stare at you through my computer screen.
Did you feel that? That burning, zealous look? I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable, but I'm trying to mindmeld you into going out and picking this up. And reading it aloud to someone. This book begs to be read aloud like a bedtime story. The language is just so lovely and lyrical. I want to call it poetic, but first - so I don't scare off those of you who see "poetry" and shudder - let me explain what I mean. Poets have such attention to detail and word choice. Every. single. word. a poet uses is meant to be there; it's chosen for not only its exact meaning but for the way it sounds in relation to everything else. The sounds matter just as much, and the way it rolls off your tongue when said aloud. It's musical, in a way, and a teensy bit magical. Victoria Schwab has this kind of mentality, this attention to detail. The things she does with language in this, the way it sounds and the turns of phrase, are so perfectly suited to the story. It's sometimes breathtaking, like your favorite fairy tale told perfectly.
I could probably go on about this for days. I want to sit each of you down around a giant campfire, and pass this book around so we can all read it to each other. So we can glory in the language and the way a good story, well told, makes you feel. Schwab understands the communal nature of storytelling and Lexi, the main character, is a perfect vehicle for it. Lexi's narration weaves the story and all of these important elements together with insight and sympathy and bravery. Through her, the village and the inhabitants and the wild moor come to life beautifully.
Aside from the language and beautiful form of the novel, the story itself is enjoyable. I'm not going to say it's not predictable (there's little these days that is), but it's predictable in the way that fairy tales and folk tales are predictable. You're pretty sure who the good guys and bad guys are, and you're pretty sure there's a lesson to be learned, but it's not necessarily a bad thing to go in knowing. It lends a sense of familiarity to the story, rather than detracting from it. You may sort of know what's going to happen, but it's really all about getting there. The story is in the journey, you know?
I respect Schwab and the story, too, for understanding the gray nature of things, and not presenting it all as black and white. Though many people in the novel may think and act under an Us vs. Them mentality, Lexi and a handful of others realize that there is always more to it, and this is really what drives the story. There is a mystery, yes, and something bad happening, but it's a story about understanding and acceptance more than anything. And it's never heavy-handed with any kind of moral. There is a pervading sense of acceptance and open-mindedness, a knowledge that things once were better and a hope that they can be again. But it's not an afterschool special: it's never didactic with it. It's just that there's love and it just is. (Does that make any sense?)
The only thing I had questions about was the romance. I like Cole, and I like Lexi's interactions with him. I'm even not opposed to the almost-triangle with Tyler, because it was believable. But I don't know that it was necessary. Or maybe it just didn't need to be amped up quite so much. It almost felt like a split focus, and I think hints of a blossoming attraction and early-stage intrigue would have been plenty. The story only takes place over a few days, afterall, so anything more than an awareness of each other can feel a little melodramatic and silly to me. But I am self-admittedly cold-hearted, so.... (And I did enjoy the two of them together. It is really a minor thing.)
So yeah, that's it. It was lovely and I'm going to be keeping my eye on Schwab to see where she goes from here.
And I don't know why you're reading this when you could be reading The Near Witch......more