Growing up, I was never a fan of fantasy. I liked it in theory. I thought it was romantic when people discussed the far-away lands filled with magnificent creatures with wondrous powers they envisioned in their own minds. And I always thought of myself as imaginative. But I could never grab hold of those fantastical stories that others fell in love with.
I mean, I’ve never even read the Harry Potter series. (Something I hope to remedy this year.)
Therefore, it’s always a pleasant surprise when I find a movie or a book with some magical, mystical elements that I can actually latch onto in a deeper way than just surface enjoyment. And that is what I found in Ransom Riggs’ world of time loops, ymbrynes, wights, and peculiar children.
Ransom Riggs’ series Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children follows the story of Jacob who must deal with the peculiar death of his grandfather. After struggling to believe, and finally discovering the truth of, the fairy tales of his childhood, Jacob is pulled into a world-wide war between peculiars, wights and hollows. Jacob helps his newfound friends try to maintain order in the peculiar world while also discovering his own secret power. And, in the midst of seemingly certain demise, Jacob questions and struggles with his feelings for a peculiar girl of the past and his longing for a life filled with adventure.
I have to admit, the main reason I was drawn to this series was the photos. I think what Riggs has done by incorporating vintage photos into the story is incredibly creative and lends much more depth to the story. It also subtly grounds the story in reality in a way, which is something that I love to see in fantasy stories. I enjoy some sort of connection between the magical world and the real world. Maybe because it seems more possible then.
I decided to combine my reviews of all of the books into one post, mainly because once I got started reading them, I couldn’t stop. But there are a few things I would say about the series in general. First, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and how they grew (and remained the same) throughout the story. The way that Riggs introduces each character is so whimsical and immersive, which I thought was perfect for a story of this nature. I also enjoyed the authenticity of the time loops. The people, including the peculiar children we meet, all remain true to their time period in their mannerisms and dress, even when they are transported to other time loops. I appreciate Riggs’ devotion to authenticity in both settings and characters because I think it makes the story much richer and offers opportunities for unique interactions between characters of different time periods.
I love the dark, haunting tone of the entire series and the way Riggs weaves in small glimpses of light happiness despite the grim realities peculiar children face living in their loops.
What I really love about this story is the underlying question of humanity — is there a limit to our humanity; and once lost, can it be regained? Where is the humanity in war? And when there are small glimpses of it, how do we respond? The Miss Peregrine’s series is a study in human emotion and action, set in a world filled with wonder and slightly tainted with anger and fear.
Book One: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
In this first book, we are introduced to characters we will grow to love and root for throughout the series. Riggs was incredibly creative when it came to dreaming up peculiarities and I thoroughly enjoyed learning of their back stories and how they came to be discovered and, in some cases rescued, by Miss Peregrine.
I thought that Riggs’ inclusion of Jacob’s parents’ reactions to his stories was very smart and, again, gave the story much more integrity in terms of grounding it in reality. In this book, more so than the others, we see Jacob’s internal struggle between a comfortable family life and a life filled with adventure, romance and guaranteed danger — it is the perfect blend of the yearnings teenagers feel for life, and the mature questioning they will soon face, which makes this an extremely successful young adult novel.
Book Two: Hollow City
In this second book, we follow this plucky group of peculiar children as they begin their long and burden-filled journey to London to rescue their broken ymbryne and find help defeating the group of wights and hollows that continue to garner power over the peculiar world.
Here, we remain in 1940 after the group has escaped the clutches of hollows. Throughout their journey, the group meets many new allies. They find a hidden time loop filled with peculiar creatures, whose ymbryne is also missing. This group of strange animals was a little bit hard for me to swallow because it seemed a bit random. Yet, when I thought more about it, there was really no reason for Riggs not to include such beings, as they have filled folklore and freak shows alike throughout history. They are subject to just as much scrutiny and injustice as the children have often faced, giving them a unique camaraderie that ends up helping in the long run.
The group makes its way through war-ridden London, seeing the smoking wreckage that remains from aerial bombings that they have avoided for so many years. I loved this injection of cold, harsh reality that continues to question us, the readers, about humanity.
I am not normally a fan of stories in which everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. However, Riggs’ writing, unique imagination and development of the story continued to draw me in, even when everything seemed to be lost.
Book Three: Library of Souls
In the final book of the series, the main focus is the growth of Jacob’s confidence in himself as he pushes his power to discover his ability to both overcome great odds and allow himself to take what he wants from life.
In Library of Souls, readers follow the remaining free peculiars in their quest to rescue their kidnapped friends and ymbrynes before the wights attempt their experiment again, which could have even greater repercussions than before. The children are put through several situations that test their endurance, loyalty, faith and trust, seeming to grow stronger with each situation despite the certain mental and physical exhaustion they must be in at this point.
The majority of the story takes place in another time loop — a past rife with disease, famine and poverty — where Riggs chooses to inject another healthy dose of reality into the story. The loop resembles something of a purgatory to me, in which the fate of both the wights and the peculiars will be decided after they endure great amounts of adversity and realize their strength and the worth of their lives and those of their friends.
This story did take a couple of unexpected turns and readers are introduced to a great number of things in a short amount of time, so that the tone and rhythm of the story are slightly disrupted. Yet, everything comes together in the end.
What I did enjoy in the second and third books was that although Jacob and Emma’s relationship remains a constant presence, it does not dominate the story. Riggs’ treatment of the relationship is at once accurate to those of teenagers while also respectful to the situations the couple continually faces.
On Goodreads, I gave each book four stars, deducting simply for some of the organization and changes in tone, rhythm and plot line that seemed to take away slightly from the overarching theme.
When all is said and done, I enjoyed this series immensely and would highly recommend it to those who enjoy YA fiction that immerses readers in a unique blend fantasy and reality. It is, simply, a great pleasure to read.
What did you think of the Miss Peregrine’s series? Does the use of vintage photography accompanying the story enrich or hinder the reading experience? How does Riggs’ blend of fantasy and reality address society’s basic humanity? Let’s talk.