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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

UPDATE! Ransom Riggs: Final Novel in PECULIAR CHILDREN SERIES: "Library of Souls"

Author:  Ransom Riggs
Novel: Library of Souls (hard cover, e-book, and audio9/2015; paperback4/2017)
Plot Type:  Fantasy with a touch of horror
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles:  Quirk Books 

     Library of Souls is the third and FINAL novel in the PECULIAR CHILDREN series. I have reviewed the first two novels in separate posts. Here are the links to those posts:
> Click HERE to go to my review of the first book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. This review contains a full description of the world-building.
> Click HERE to go to my review of Hollow City, the second book. 
> Click HERE to read my review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel.
Riggs includes the following definitions at the beginning of Library of Souls, and I am including them here just for review:
Peculiars: "The hidden branch of any species, human or animal, that is blessed—and cursed—with supernormal traits. Respected in ancient times, feared and persecuted more recently, peculiars are outcasts who live in the shadows." In this novel, the primary peculiars are Jacob and Emma, the human hero and heroine, and Addison, the well-spoken, eyeglass-wearing dog.
Loop: "A limited area in which a single day is repeated endlessly. Created and maintained by ymbrynes to shelter their peculiar wards from danger, loops delay indefinitely the aging of their inhabitants. But loop dwellers are by no means immortal: each day they 'skip' is a debt that's banked away, to be repaid in gruesome rapid aging should they linger too long outside their loop."
Ymbrynes: "The shape-shifting matriarchs of peculiardom. They can change into birds at will, manipulate time, and are charged with the protection of peculiar children."
Hollowgast (aka Hollows): "Monstrous ex-peculiars who hunger for the souls of their former brethren. Corpselike and withered except for their muscular jaws, within which they harbor powerful, tentacle-like tongues. Especially dangerous because they're invisible to all by a few peculiars, of whom Jacob Portman is the only one known alive."
Wights: "A hollowgast that consumes enough peculiar souls becomes a wight, which are visible to all and resemble normals in every way but one: their pupil-less, perfectly white eyes. Brilliant, manipulative, and skilled at blending in, wights have spent years infiltrating both normal and peculiar society...They've waged a long campaign of murder, fear, and kidnapping against peculiars, using hollowgast as their monstrous assassins. Their ultimate goal is to exact revenge upon, and take control of, peculiardom."
                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                     
     A boy with extraordinary powers. An army of deadly monsters. An epic battle for the future of peculiardom.

     The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

     They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all. Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.

                    MY REVIEW                      

    The action starts early and continues at a break-neck pace all the way to the end of this final novel. Jacob, Emma, and Addison are on a quest to find and rescue their peculiar friends and their ymbryne, Miss Peregrine, from the clutches of Caul, Miss Peregrine's villainous brother. Currently, the intrepid trio is in the present—not in a loop—so if they are injured or killed, there will be no replay. This is for keeps.

     As the story begins, Jacob has just discovered that, under certain circumstances, he can control hollows with just his voice—for example, when he is completely terrified because one of them is trying to kill him. When Jacob and his friends are trapped in a tunnel with a hungry hollow, Jacob suddenly discovers that the creature responds to his orders. When he says "Don't move." "Get back" "Stay." the hollow obeys, and then begins to follow Jacob—not attacking, just following along behind the little group like a very dangerous pet. As time passes, Jacob fine-tunes his interactions with his hollow and becomes more confidant in his new supernormal power.

     Meanwhile Addison is tracking the scent of their peculiar friends, who are in the clutches of Caul and his army of wights and hollows. The trail comes to an end on a riverbank, where they climb into a boat owned by a man named Sharon (an obvious play on the myth of Charon, the ferryman who carries the dead across the River Styx from the world of the living to the world of the dead). Sharon is "seven feet tall at least, his massive frame draped in a cloak and his face hidden beneath a dark hood." The river-ride-to-hell metaphor becomes even more obvious when their voyage takes them directly to a peculiar part of London called Devil's Acre, because Sharon all but admits that he transported Jacob's peculiar friends there. 

     As they travel into Devil's Acre, Jacob's hollow is still following him—underwater. When some river pirates attack Sharon's boat, Jacob commands the hollow to stop them and is happily surprised that the hollow does exactly that. Soon after they arrive in Devil's Acre, Addison hitches a ride to the island on which Caul has established a fortress where he holds all of his captive peculiars and ymbrynes. Sharon promises to assist Jacob and Emma, but when he leaves them alone to run an errand, they decide to strike out on their own and learn quickly that Devil's Acre is a very dangerous place. Eventually, Sharon and his friends come to their rescue and carry them off to meet Miss Peregrine's second brother, Myron Bentham.

     At this point, Riggs has Bentham fill in the gaps in the mythology, going back to the beginning
to pre-hollow/wightdays and telling the tragic story of who created those monsters and why. But can we trust Bentham? Jacob and Emma aren't sure (and neither was I). 

     For me, the explanation of the mythology is the most interesting part of the story, mostly because it isn't driven by weird photographs. I know...I know...The photographs are the most famous element of this series, but at this point I feel that rather than planning a general plot and then using photos that enhance it, Riggs is letting the photos themselves "write" too many of the story lines. Several incidents seem to have been jammed into this already lengthy book just because Riggs couldn't resist adding a few more really strange pictures. 

     Needless to say, Jacob and Emma are so intelligent, fearless, and battle-ready that they win the day in the requisite showdown battle with Caul near the end of the book. But then, Jacob has a decision to make. Should he go back to his normal family, or should he stay with his first-and-only-love, Emma, and his peculiar friends. Riggs finds a satisfying way to resolve Jacob's problem even if it is a bit too quick and neat.

     All in all, this has been a great series, very fresh and inventive. The best of the three books is the first one, mostly because it introduces Jacob and the peculiar children and sets up the mythology so perfectly. The second book is not as successful because it feels totally driven by the photographs, although the wild and crazy scenes at sea are quite exciting. This final book is better than the second but doesn't quite measure up to the first, with the exception of the explanation of the early parts of the mythology, which are well crafted and fit right in with the events of the earlier books. 

     Tim Burton's movie based on the series is in theaters now and has received mostly good reviews. I haven't had time to see it yet, but plan to do so soon. I recommend the series because it is so imaginative and because Riggs has done such a masterful job with characterization. We really care about Emma and Jacob and their friends as they try to live their peculiar lives in as normal a way as possible.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Library of Souls on its page. Just click on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio. 

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