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The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
Book Name: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
Publisher(s): Greenwillow Books (US) HarperCollins (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: September 18, 2012 (US) October 20, 2012 (UK)

The Peculiar is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

That’s the short version of this review. You shouldn’t need to read any more. Just go buy a copy and experience it for yourself.

However, for the rest of you that need a little more convincing…

Immediately after steamrolling through the second half of this book in one sitting—which I haven’t done in years—I knew I was holding something special in my hands. I could do nothing but stare at the final page in disbelief. As if my eyes still desperately clung to the world conjured by author Stefan Bachmann’s words, hoping to catch just one more glimpse of the magic of which he had let me be a part.

Days later, the feeling remained. Like someone had punched a hole in my heart, opened their fist and let go a grenade of emotions. I missed it. I missed it badly. I wanted to do something I’ve never done before and go straight back to the beginning to re-read the whole thing, just so I was still tagging along with Bartholomew Kettle and Mr Jelliby, in this truly astounding gothic, steampunk, faery world.

If you enjoy reading, you know what I’m talking about: the grief that follows having to say goodbye to a bunch of new friends with whom you’ve had this amazing experience. A period of post-holiday/romance blues. A time of reader’s mourning.

This is one of those books. For me, an Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood, a JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, or (showing my age) a Sheila K McCullagh’s Tim and the Hidden People. A story that draws you in and never, ever lets go, no matter how much age and (alleged) maturity might attempt to dull your senses for such magical things.

However…wait. I’m gushing. Let’s not get carried away. I like to be objective about these things. This is a review, so let’s have a little glimpse of what the book is about before we go any further:

Bartholomew Kettle won’t live long. Changelings never do. The child of a human mother and a faery father, he is despised by both his races. But one day Bartholomew suddenly finds himself at the centre of a web of intrigue and danger that spans the entire country. A powerful figure sits in the shadows, pushing the pieces in place for some terrible victory. Something is coming for Bartholomew. But when you’re a changeling, there’s nowhere to run.

Okay then. That sounds good, right? And it’s given us a bit of time to calm down, eschew the hyperbole, and prepare to discuss this rationally. It’s only a book after all.

We’ll start with the bad news.

The Bad News

There is no bad news.

Okay, fine, there might be a few areas in the plot that could have been expanded upon for clarity, a few semi-frustrating character decisions that prolong the delicious agony of reaching the goal, and even my all-time-favourite-issue of third-person omniscient cropping up now and again when ‘convention’ dictates that it would be slightly more immersive as third limited.

But do you know what? I DON’T CARE. I couldn’t give a jot about these minor niggles when a book is this deliciously written and compelling. Stephen King does third omniscient and gets away with it because he is a sublime writer. I would argue that Stefan Bachmann is of the same calibre—a writer who can whisk you away to an alternate universe with such aplomb that such (personal) trivial niggles can’t even catch their breath.

What’s that? You want actual problems?

Right then, the one thing that truly doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that this is a kids’ book. Because it’s dark. And, at times, extremely disturbing. And aside from that, targeting the younger end of the market means that a lot of adults might not read it. And that’s a massive shame.

Sorry, that’s all I got.

The Good News

It’s pretty much perfect. The world is a delightful nightmare of imagination. The plot is a rollercoaster of gut-twisting tension. While the two lead characters are well drawn and brilliantly believable, as they struggle to piece together a clockwork puzzle that takes them across a weird and wonderful country to save the day.

And the writing? Simply exquisite.

Stefan Bachmann was only 16 when he created this masterpiece. If he was to write this kind of review, likely he would come up with a far more imaginative way of describing how much he loved the writing in the book. The kind of statement that would in a single breath capture an entire world of emotion, before shaking it like a snow globe so we can see all the plots, subplots, character arcs, and mysterious intrigue swirling within.

All I can really do is retype the word EXQUISITE in caps and hope that it conveys everything you need to know.

For me this writing stands above and beyond most of what I’ve read in my life, across all age ranges. This is the kind of fantasy writing (and worldbuilding) that makes me gape in awe, before drinking and quitting writing forever…only to get up the next day, shake away the fuzz and use this author’s work as a goal to aspire to—even if I know I will never be as good.

And to be honest, very few of us will ever be this good. This is natural writing talent at its finest. Anything the author learns from this point onwards will simply be interesting new ways to tackle plot, characters, points of view, or even genres. As far as I’m concerned he has nothing more to learn about writing, and anything he does write I will be there to read.


If you love reading or writing fantasy, you must read this book.

In fact, if you love reading or writing anything, you should pick up the book anyway and prepare to fall a little bit in love with it.

I’ve already mentioned the HP words once. I will do so again now, because I must. The Peculiar is simply a delight from start to finish, and every bit as magical as any from JK Rowling’s fantastic Harry Potter series. Perhaps even more so, in some cases.

And considering that the free sample chapter on Amazon is a stunning masterclass in how to write a prologue—showcasing everything that can be brilliant about prologues—you really have no excuse not to give it a go.


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