Bartholomew Kettle is a changeling - half human, half faery - but no ordinary faery, as Barthy's father was one of the highest order of faeries. Changelings don't live long. These half-bloods are hated by both human and faery, and tend to keep to themselves.
Barthy and his sister Hettie live in the faery slums of Bath with their mother when Barthy notices the appearance of a strange woman in a plum-coloured dress, who 'steals' a young boy from his neighbour across the road. Barthy sees it happen - but worse - the back of the mysterious woman's head is occupied by something quite horrifying. And the creature sees Barthy.
Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.
This event sets in motion an extraordinary story about a young changeling and his beloved sister Hettie, the evil Mr Lickerish and his dasterdly plans, and the good-hearted member of Parliament, Arthur Jelliby, who befriends Barthy and scrabbles to undo the awful plants Lickerish has in store.
This is a truly magical tale, with interesting plot elements, a highly imaginative storyline, and some quite extraordinary descriptive writing. Set in a steampunk world between Bath and London - of no particular time in history - The Peculiar features glorious Victorian undertones and a host of magical and far-fetched creatures that will delight readers both older and young, especially those interested in the dark and creepy . . . Let's just say there were moments during this book that I felt the need to turn on another lamp.
The opening scene where Bath is razed by a swirling mass of black feathers is quite extraordinary and Bachmann has a true gift for both the creation of astonishing worlds, and the craftsmanship of fine, descriptive prose - something I enormously appreciated.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book and marvelled at the author's frequent moments of brilliance, Bachmann's age (18 - he began writing the story at 16), does shine through at times, with the odd awkwardly-constructed sentence or disjointedness that seems to break the masterful spell he attempts to weave. I feel with a few more years under his belt, this author will truly come into his own.
The other thing that didn't sit right with me was the flagrantly clear Harry Potter referencing - from settings to characters and even plotlines. Again, the similarities managed to frequently break the 'spell' of an otherwise very well-written and entertaining book. Potter fans will, of course, love it - although I do feel Bachmann has created a 'darker' tale than JK Rowling ever did.
The Peculiar would suit older junior fiction readers to young YA. Adults would also enjoy it.
Title: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
Publisher: HarperCollins, $19.99 RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2012
For ages: 11+
Type: Fantasy, Older Junior Fiction