This is very charmingly written, but I was a bit disappointed. Unfortunately, "The Peculiars" isn't unforgettable nor a very thrilling read, but it is a comfortable one. The tone is lovely, as is the use of sensory language, but the rest didn't quite come up to snuff for me. However, I think a lot of readers (especially younger ones) will really enjoy this one.
I wouldn't say this one is quite steampunk, but as many other reviewers have suggested, rather, proto-steampunk - with inventions like the steam-powered autoclave for hospitals just starting to take off, steampunk itself usually takes place when steam has fully replaced electricity in our current universe, thus diverging and becoming an alternate universe with an alternate history. What I also loved were the small touches about where we are in this alternate history - Darwin is just starting to write his scientific papers, we still have gaslamps, and steam power itself is still heavily being researched while fighting big coal and oil (very relevant to today's energy concerns - well done, McQuerry!). The details are minute and well-done, but when you don't have the rest of your story to back it up, well...it doesn't really come together as much of a story but rather a bunch of scenes.
And unfortunately, I came away with that: a bunch of scenes, rather than one cohesive tale. And while those are very charming and eloquently written scenes, I found myself losing interest, fast. The pace was lingering, and I like to linger over things, but it got to the point where it was dragging pretty significantly by the end of the first third of the book. This isn't a good thing - we should, as an audience, be hooked in at this point.
The characters, well...Lena was interestingly sounding far, far younger than her age of 18, and at times sounded far more like a younger teen in terms of her voice, the way she spoke and the way she thought. I found the Marshal wonderfully creepy and great for an antagonist - I had no issues with him. The rest just kind of felt pale and barely filled in, and left me with a lot wanting in the character sphere. They felt barely 2D. I really hate it when that happens, because there's so much potential here.
The world itself was well-constructed, and that's, at the end of the day, what saved the book for me. It's rare to find proto-steampunk now that the genre is having its hayday, a happy thing indeed, but I'd love more proto-steampunk or early-steampunk-set novels. I thought the idea of Scree and a no-man's land/wild west that's set seemingly somewhere in Europe or the UK (though we're given no concrete details about that, I wish we had) was great.
The plot and pacing were just too slow for me. Lena needs to get to Scree, but seems to spend an inordinate amount of time in Knob's Knoster - a ridiculous amount, and there's not much going on there except for a bit of romance and the threats of the antagonist, which should have been pushing her to get more done faster so she could get the hell out of there and to Scree. Again, a lot of wasted potential, and it's frustrating.
But overall? This could have been so much better than it was. The worldbuilding and writing were top-notch, but the rest just needed another draft or two to feel completely full and real. However, because of its simplicity, I think the MG and very young YA audience will enjoy this one because it's an easy read. I was just hoping for something more.
Final verdict? For the more seasoned steampunk or older reader, you may want to skip this one. But this would be a good book to introduce younger audiences to the steampunk/proto-steampunk genre. "The Peculiars" is out through Amulet/ABRAMS on May 1st, 2012 in North America, so be sure to go check it out then.
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)”