When we are children, many of us yearn to be explorers and adventurers, discovering new lands and experiencing extraordinary new things. However, it’s rare, in this day and age, that we would ever get the chance at all, considering nearly everything in the natural world has been ‘discovered’.
When Jacob Portman was a child, he, too, wished to become an explorer, but instead had to settle for the fantastic tales his grandfather Abraham told him about his life growing up. Sent from his Polish home at the beginning of World War II, Abe travelled with a group of children to Wales, where he lived under the tutelage of Miss Peregrine in a home for displaced children. While there, he became friends with a peculiar group, whose abilities included levitation, extreme strength, invisibility, fire production and dead animation, just to name a few. With photo evidence as ‘proof’ for his anecdotes, Abe would tell Jacob magical stories about his childhood- stories which Jacob would later discount as fairy tales, intended to create a little bit of excitement in his life.
Several years later, Jacob is sixteen and Abraham is starting to go senile in his old age, often talking about monsters and the magical Welsh island that he grew up on. When Jacob receives a disturbing call, he goes to check on his grandfather and is horrified to find he has been attacked. While everyone else assumes that Abraham’s death was the cause of wild animals, Jacob believes that something more sinister was at hand, and ends up in psychiatric counselling as a result. With his grandfather’s last words circling through his mind, it isn’t long before Jacob decides that he needs to see this enchanted Welsh island and put the whole saga to rest. With his bird-enthusiast father as chaperone, Jacob travels from sunny Florida to foggy Cairnholm Island, where he enlists the help of the locals to find the old children’s home.
Over sixty years have passed since his grandfather left the place, and the house appears to be a ruin, with huge holes in the roof and walls, and plant life growing up through the floorboards. But there’s more to Miss Peregrine’s abandoned orphanage than meets the eye. What if the children are actually still there, having not aged a day since a wayward bomb destroyed their home? What if they’re not only still there, but they’re actually still alive? And what if their peculiarities- which Jacob once dismissed- are actually true, and they have abilities that most people could only dream of? As Jacob explores the mysterious old house, learning more about his grandfather in the process, he discovers a fantastic and haunting world where being peculiar is a perfectly ordinary state of affairs, and the main danger is time itself…
This novel has authentic vintage photos scattered throughout (all of a peculiar nature) which have been lovingly collected throughout the years, and lent to the author for this book. It’s hard to say whether the story was derived from the images, or the images were chosen because they could best represent parts of the story, but either way, they lend an intriguing touch to the plotline. The melding of past and present is also done particularly well, and readers of fantasy and gothic adventure stories are sure to enjoy Riggs’ debut novel. An open ending and looming danger act as enticement for readers to continue Jacob’s adventure in the follow-up story, Hollow City.