Fit­tingly pe­cu­liar fi­nale

The fi­nal book in Ran­som Riggs’ tril­ogy leaves one wish­ing there were more.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Re­view by SHARMILLA GANE­SAN star2@ thes­tar. com. my

DE­SPITE its fan­tas­ti­cal story, the Miss Pere­grine’s Pe­cu­liar Chil­dren tril­ogy by Ran­som Riggs al­ways had a de­cid­edly real- world edge about it. This could per­haps be traced back to the way the au­thor in­ter­twines his plot with and around ac­tual vin­tage pho­to­graphs, cre­at­ing an in­ter­est­ing meta nar­ra­tive that seems to ex­tend be­yond the pages of the books.

Us­ing th­ese in­trigu­ing and of­ten odd pho­to­graphs to tell the story of “pe­cu­liars” – hu­mans and an­i­mals with un­usual abil­i­ties – who live hid­den from hu­man so­ci­ety, was an in­spired idea.

What makes the se­ries stand out from the glut of young adult se­ries, though, is that rather than re­ly­ing on the pic­tures as a gim­mick, Riggs has spun a gen­uinely ab­sorb­ing tale cen­tred on them. ( A big screen adap­ta­tion of the se­ries’ first book, di­rected by Tim Bur­ton, is slated to be re­leased in Septem­ber.)

The third and fi­nal book, Li­brary Of Souls, while not the strong­est, pro­vides a fit­ting fi­nale for the story that be­gan with Miss Pere­grine’s Home For Pe­cu­liar Chil­dren and then con­tin­ued in Hol­low City.

The pho­to­graphs, though a lit­tle less novel the third time around, con­tinue to be lit­tle fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries in them­selves, and the way Riggs seam­lessly in­te­grates them into the plot is still im­pres­sive.

And while the nar­ra­tive here lacks some of the swift­ness and won­der of the ear­lier books, Li­brary Of Souls keeps us hooked thanks to its strong pro­tag­o­nist, Ja­cob Port­man.

In the first book, we were in­tro­duced to the world of pe­cu­liars when Ja­cob, while seek­ing an ex­pla­na­tion for his grand­fa­ther’s mys­te­ri­ous death, stum­bles upon a home for chil­dren with spe­cial abil­i­ties run by the in­domitable Miss Pere­grine.

As the home comes un­der threat from ter­ri­fy­ing crea­tures, Ja­cob re­alises that he has an im­por­tant role to play in sav­ing the chil­dren.

As we learn more about both him and his grand­fa­ther and the world of the pe­cu­liars, Ja­cob re­mains the lynch­pin of the whole se­ries – not just be­cause he dis­cov­ers his own abil­i­ties, but by be­ing the emo­tional cen­tre of the story.

One of the se­ries’ strengths, in fact, is the re­al­is­tic and sen­si­tive way in which a teenaged boy’s in­ner land­scape is por­trayed, and watch­ing Ja­cob ma­ture as the story pro­gresses.

Li­brary Of Souls builds on this fur­ther, with Ja­cob not just com­ing into his own as a leader but also deal­ing with dif­fi­cult choices and emo­tions. His re­la­tion­ship with the pe­cu­liar girl Emma, in par­tic­u­lar, is han­dled ex­tremely re­al­is­ti­cally.

Where the book falls short, though, is with its sec­ondary char­ac­ters. One of the most en­joy­able aspects of the first two books was the wide ar­ray of unique char­ac­ters, each of whom had es­sen­tial parts to play in the nar­ra­tive.

Li­brary Of Souls, though, nar­rows its fo­cus much more on Ja­cob and Emma; mean­while, the push to move the story for­ward of­ten doesn’t leave much space to dwell upon many of the peo­ple we’ve come to know and love from the pre­vi­ous two books.

Where the book does cap­ti­vate, though, is in its world- build­ing. Us­ing time loops, where a cer­tain date in the past is frozen and re­peated over and over, as a cen­tral plot point al­lows Riggs to jump back and forth in his­tory dur­ing his story.

While Hol­low City used World War II as an in­te­gral part of its set­ting, Li­brary Of Souls is set in Devil’s Acre, a Vic­to­rian- era Lon­don slum in­spired by a real- life lo­ca­tion of the same name and era.

The way Riggs weaves to­gether the re­al­i­ties of that time with the hor­rors fac­ing the pe­cu­liar world creates ter­rific at­mos­phere.

A mark of a good book is when you come to the last page and wish there were more. Even af­ter three vol­umes, the last page of Li­brary Of Souls leaves you wish­ing you could linger a while longer among the pe­cu­liar peo­ple and pic­tures of this se­ries.

Photo: Ta­hereh Mafi

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