Book Review: ‘Tales of the Peculiar’ (2016)

The short: 4/5 ✦. A simply beautiful book with incredible, Grimm-inspired stories about the Peculiar world.

The long:

First, it must be said that this book is GORGEOUS. It looks very much like the books published in the 1980s — or at least, The Agatha Christie Mystery Collection published during that time by Bantam Books, right down to the flowery, funky endpapers. (I know this because that’s the collection my library has, and I also own a couple.) The cover is very pretty (with elements from the stories), and it even has a bookmark ribbon! Each story also has a full-page illustration, all beautifully drawn and quite Peculiar. I was a bit wishy and washy on the Miss Peregrine trilogy as a whole, but I seriously adored this book, and now, like, I feel I have to buy the whole series just for this one. Admittedly, I’m a total sucker for folk stories and fables, Grimm and otherwise, and the stories in this collection hit all my favorite marks: moral lessons, mythology explanations, gruesome deaths, people overcoming all odds, etc. But let me backtrack a little.

So, this short story collection, narratively speaking, consists of tales told to Peculiar children all throughout history. This particular condensed set is edited by Millard Nullings, ward of Miss Peregrine, and on the inner copyright page, all credit goes to him. (There’s also a bit of hilarious text about how and where the book was printed.) Note that this fact utterly confused my library, because even though Ransom Riggs’s name is on the front cover, it is labeled as “YA – Nullings.” Well played, publishers, well played. Basically, it’s a tie-in with the Miss Peregrine series, though you actually don’t need to have read those books to understand this one; it’ll help make sense of what being peculiar is, but the stories themselves can stand on their own. I find this incredibly interesting for two reasons. One, it speaks to the strength of Riggs’s writing, that even new readers can enjoy these stories. Two, it’s rather amazing how far he’s come from those initial old pictures in the very first book. He’s created an entire world, with its own rules and culture and folklore. It seems like trying to use the pictures and build a story around them was overly constrictive at first (and luckily got better by the third book), but now Riggs is truly free to explore that world. Despite Peculiars and Peculiardom being a central focus of the trilogy, it’s almost not enough. I wanted more after reading Tales of the Peculiar, and I think it’s because the stories are indeed written in that oral tradition way, as if they could be true in this reality, while the Miss Peregrine series tried more to completely separate the two worlds. That’s not bad in and of itself, of course, but again, Riggs is really on form here, and if he wrote a new series based on the old ways of Peculiars, before the loops and the isolation and everything, I’d be so down for that!

Also interesting is the actual style of writing. While it is, as I said, fable-like, definitely Aesop and Grimm inspired, there’s also a touch of something Lemony Snicket-esque, very wry and tongue in cheek. It definitely works, but it’s odd because the trilogy was not at all written that way. And I think the Peculiar lore was a bit contradictory at times, but that can be handwaved because, hey, these are old tales that have been passed around and who knows what is true or not, right?

The stories themselves range from simple and morally focused, to downright scary and violent. The Peculiars themselves can technically be substituted for any sort of magically blessed/cursed beings (though I do think you would lose something), but of interest to Miss Peregrine fans in particular, the origin story of ymbrnes is also told, and it’s pretty great. I also liked that the protagonists varied from male to female and the settings were all over the world. While most Peculiars seem to reside in Britain, we get stories from other places, like America and even China, bringing home the idea that Peculiardom is truly international and has myths rooted in actual history.

You can probably guess that I really enjoyed this book, and I would highly recommend it not only to Miss Peregrine fans but also anybody who enjoys folk tales, for fictional worlds or not!

Header image: Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs, published September 3rd 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers

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