Photos are probably the only reason I still buy real books as opposed to Kindle books. Photos are harder to see in the small Kindle display, which is monochrome anyway. It is perfect for reading, mind you, as I have repeatedly said – the text quality is simply sublime. But if the book you plan to read has a lot of maps, pictures or illustrations, and if they really matter (either to you, or the plot), it’s generally recommended to buy the good-old paper-book.
I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children later last year. I tried its sample on Kindle first, and since I liked it, I decided to buy the hardcover version. It was quite expensive, but worth the price, I thought. It had a lot of high quality vintage pictures which added to the sinister atmosphere created by the first few chapters of the book.
Whilst I liked the book, more or less, I also felt cheated. My experience with the sample had promised a superbly atmospheric and scary story, aided by hauntingly vintage photographs. Granted, the latter was true, the former was something which disappointed me deeply. Atmosphere had nothing to do with the rest of the book, as it turned out to be a fantasy-horror novel involving a bunch of children with magical abilities braving the monsters and miraculously escaping unscathed every time.
As hackneyed as it gets.
It was, admittedly, a little unfair to the author, as the main reason I was disillusioned with the book was that I had expected something else, altogether. Indeed, I believe I would have enjoyed the book more if not for those sky-high and totally different expectations. As it was, the novel redeemed itself a bit in the last fifty pages or so.
The story was, as I said, interesting. At least, initially. A boy, Jacob, discovers that the stories his grandfather told him about his childhood, which he thought were merely a product of his grandsire’s prolific imagination, might have some truth in them, after all. His grandfather talked of a girl levitating, an invisible boy, a girl who could conjure fire with her bare hands, and so on in the stories. These children, his grandfather claimed, had been his friends.
When Jacob witnesses the death of his grandfather by an indescribably horrific creature, he goes on to find about the truth behind the event and his grandfather’s mysterious childhood. He finds the clues in the old, monochrome photographs his grandfather had gifted him.
He reaches the island where his grandfather had spent his childhood. After much difficulty, he manages to find the so called “school” where his grandfather lived with similarly aged peculiars (as the children with sundry magical powers were called) in his childhood. The house, not unexpectedly, turns out to be a tumbledown ruin.
And it was from there, the horror quotient came crashing down and it became another Harry Potter-esque novel. Jacob meets the peculiar friends of his grandfather. He had, of course, assumed them to be either long-dead and wandering as ghosts or old like his grandfather had been before his death. Turned out, they had stopped aging as kids in a “loop”, where time had stopped for them. I’m sure I’d have liked it more if those children were ghosts.
When I started the second book, I knew exactly what would I get, so I liked it much better than the first one. The writing and pacing is much improved in Hollow City. So is characterisation – no longer the peculiars are so annoying and whiny. They finally resemble real-life people.
In some ways, though, the second book remains as bad as the first one. Ransom Riggs’s attempts at humour are still lame and stilted. Also, his writing has so many clichés that it makes Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time looks like a fresh concept.
But still, it’s a decent, easy read. Pick it up when you’re bored and have nothing better to do. Just don’t assume it’s going to be once in a lifetime experience.