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Book Review(s): The Peculiars and The Drowned Cities

The Peculiars by Maureen McQuerry

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, because I’ve had some bad luck involving books with similar covers (aka, girls with wings), but the gears that are part of the title won out on my skepticism. I’m glad it did, because McQuerry’s book is a pretty fun ride. The Peculiars is the story of Lena, who has abnormally long fingers and large feet. Her mother tries to play it off as normal birth defects, but her grandmother blames Lena’s father for making her a goblin. Because Lena has no idea about her father, she finds it hard to disbelieve her grandmother. Then, on her 18th birthday, her mother gives her a note from her father and Lena decides to embark on a journey to a place called Scree, where she hopes to find her father and the truth about herself.

The story really begins as soon as Lena boards the train to Scree and meets a boy, around her age, called Jimson Quiggley. One of the things I love about McQuerry’s writing is how she creates the relationship between Jimson and Lena. While they come from different backgrounds, they’re both curious and quite smart. They end up complimenting each other in such a lovely way, despite all of the problems they must go through. There’s also some lovely discussion of libraries and librarians that warmed my heart.

Overall, this was a really fun book with an exciting adventure that fills the second half of the story with action. I loved all the characters and Lena’s character development (which was very well executed). I hope there’s a second book, because I really want to know what happens next.

Recommend? Definitely. This is a great steampunk crossed with fairy tale characters (without the fairy tale) novel. It’s got a cute potential romance, but with enough angst to keep you wanting the next book. The story is self-contained, so while you might be annoyed with the ending, it won’t leave you wanting to throw the book across the room.

The Drowned Cities by  Paolo Bacigalupi

My past attempts at reading Bacigalupi’s books results in me not getting very far in The Windup Girl  and quite liking Ship Breaker. So when I saw that there’s a companion book to Ship Breaker, I just had to read it. The Drowned Cities is, in some ways, a darker novel than much of the young adult SF/F I’m used to reading. I think, in some ways, it’s even darker than The Hunger Games. The violence in The Drowned Cities is very personal, as the story takes place during a war. There are several central characters, many of whom give up their lives for what they believe is right, but also because they have no other choice.

The central character in the story is Mahlia, a castoff. Her father was a Chinese peacekeeper who slept with her mother, and then left them when the peacekeepers left what used to be the US for China. While escaping from one of the many armies (who sent the peacekeepers running) she lost her part of her arm, including her hand. She makes rash (and sometimes poor) decisions, that results in her and her friend Mouse stumbling upon the body of a bio-engineered half-man named Tool. One of the things I loved about this book was Tool. We got his point of view (along with several other characters, including Mouse and Mahlia), which differs from the children and the adults found in the book. He’s full of instinct and conflict and so many emotions that he’s not sure what to do with them.

The Drowned Cities is as engrossing as it is harsh. There’s not happy ending, no Mahlia defeats the bad guys. The ending is heartbreaking, but beautifully written.  I don’t know why Bacigalupi’s YA books work better for me than The Windup Girl, but they do. You do not need to read Ship Breaker to read the second book, but it does give you more of feeling for the world both books take place in. I look forward to the next installment.

Recommend? To older teens, definitely — especially if they’ve read Ship Breaker. Fans of Bacigalupi’s adult books might enjoy it as well. It’s a harsh read, as I said above, the not for those with weak stomachs. At it’s core, the book is a survival during war story and the main characters are all children/young adults. It’s not an easy read, but it was good, well written and thoughtful.

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