The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
This steampunk fantasy novel is set in the late 1800s. Lena lives with her mother and grandmother and on her 18th birthday is given a letter that her father had left for her. Her father left when she was a tiny child, leaving only one thing behind, Lena’s very long hands and feet. Her hands are so long that they have an additional joint and she wears special gloves to make them less conspicuous. The world she lives in is not accepting of “Peculiars” and Lena wonders if her hands and feet mark her as more than a genetic abnormality. There are rumors her father was a goblin. Along with the letter, Lena receives a deed to her father’s mine in Scree. So she sets off on a journey north to Scree but before she can get there, the train she is on is attacked and her savings are stolen. She met a very nice young man, Jimson on the train, and he mentioned working in a library. She also met a handsome young marshal, Thomas Saltre, who asks her help in spying on someone who is experimenting upon Peculiars. In exchange, he will help her find a guide to head to Scree. Filled with steam powered machines, dubious inventions, and adventure this book asks deep questions that are not easily answered.
A lot of those questions focus upon what makes people different and whether genetics decide your personality. There is also a strong look at persecution of people who are different, with laws that make them unable to own property and not be seen as really human. There are even beliefs that people who are Peculiar do not have souls. It is a fantasy lens look at a society moments before what could become a genocide. This immense societal pressure adds to the tension throughout the book, and plays a factor in the way the story turns.
The book can be slow at times, though I was enjoying the world building enough that it did not concern me. I enjoyed lingering in the library with Jimson and Lena, enjoyed unraveling the truth of what was happening. The characters are intriguing and complex.
With the popularity of steampunk, this book should find an eager audience. Readers may not expect such a complex society that poses such dark questions, and that will be a welcome surprise.
Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.