Tales of the Peculiar is a collection of 10 short stories featuring the peculiars most beloved folklore. I have yet to read the peculiar trilogy by Ransom Riggs, but since I absolutely loved his Talking Pictures, I decided to give this one a go. And it was one of the best decisions I made today.
“Passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial, each story is part history, part fairy tale, and part moral lesson aimed at young peculiars. These tales hail from various parts of the globe, from oral as well as written traditions, and have gone through striking transformations over the years. They have survived as long as they have because they are loved for their merits as stories, but they are more than that, too. ”
This review contains mild spoilers.
The Splendid Cannibals: 4.5/5 starsAs the title might suggest, in this tale wealthy cannibals dine on the discarded limbs of peculiars. Of course, they were “civilized cannibals and never killed innocent people.”
Not only was the writing spectacular, but it was also such a fascinating and educational take on spending (or rather, wasting) money and never seeing a limit.
The Fork-Tongued Princess: 5/5 stars“In the ancient kingdom of Frankenbourg there was a princess who had a peculiar secret: in her mouth hid a long, forked tongue and across her back lay shimmering, diamond-patterned scales.”
In this story the kingdom is preparing for a royal wedding. The princess has been matched with a prince from Galatia (for political necessity), but she’s terribly frightened that once the prince discovers her secret, he’ll reject her at once.
“Don’t worry,” counseled her handmaiden. “He’ll see your beautiful face, come to know your beautiful heart, and forgive the rest.”
“And if he doesn’t?” the princess replied. “Our best hope for peace will be ruined, and I’ll live the rest of my days a spinster!”
The only person to know her true identity is her lovely and trustworthy handmaiden.
At its heart, this short story is about finding love (not the romantic kind, thankfully) and acceptance in unexpected places.
“I believe I’m done with princes forever,” the princess said, “peculiar or otherwise.”
I seriously cannot be more thankful for that ending!! Her character growth was so inspiring and powerful. I loved it.
The First Ymbryne: 4.5/5 stars“The first ymbryne wasn’t a woman who could turn herself into a bird, but a bird who could turn herself into a woman.”
Ymeene, born into a family of goshawks, has always felt unaccepted in her environment. She’s been afflicted and blessed with the ability to turn into both bird and human.
So, when turned away from her family, she tries her luck as a human but soon figures out that no village among normals will accept her peculiarity.
You see, she had a talent other than her ability to change form: she could make small moments repeat themselves.
On a day where she’s doing just that, she meets Englebert, a young man with his head disconnected entirely from his neck. He invites her back to his camp, where she meets her people.
“They welcomed her even after she showed them how she could turn herself into a hawk, and in turn they showed her some of the unusual talents they possessed. It seemed she was not alone in the world. Perhaps, she thought, there was a place for her after all.”
But what Ymeene didn’t realize was that she had joined them during one of the darkest periods for peculiars.
It was really interesting getting to know some background on the setting for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I’d read about the loop but never knew why it had been placed there from the start.
“It was then that Ymeene realized her time-looping talent had a use she’d never fully understood—one that would change peculiar society forever, though she couldn’t have known it then. She’d made a safe place for them, a bubble of stalled time, and the peculiars watched in fascination as the normals’ army advanced toward them and then faded away, over and over again, in a three-minute loop.”
One of the most satisfying moments.
Also, I love how strong the female character are in this collection. SO MUCH YES.
And no unnecessary romantic subplot!! TOO MUCH YES.
The Woman Who Befriended Ghosts: 4/5 stars“There was once a peculiar woman named Hildy. She had a high laughing voice and dark brown skin, and she could see ghosts. She wasn’t frightened by them at all.”
Seeing ghosts is one of my biggest fears (I can fully blame my younger self for watching the Sixth Sense at night), so this short story was right up my alley.
Hildy’s twin sister drowned when they were children, and when she was growing up, her sister’s ghost was her closest friend.
So when her twin informs her that she has to attend some ghost business for a few years, Hildy feel distraught.
To distract herself, she tries to connect with other (living) people but cannot for the live in her find common ground.
“Hildy found she preferred the company of ghosts to living people, and so she decided to make some ghost friends. The trouble was how to do it. Even though Hildy could see ghosts, they were not easy to talk to. Ghosts, you see, are a bit like cats—they’re never around when you want them, and rarely come when called.”
She comes up with the idea to buy a haunted house to easily befriend a (full-time) ghost, which made me think she was a bit strange (which, to be fair, she was).
What I didn’t, however, expect was for this short story to be so… funny. I kid you not, I laughed out loud multiple times, which I greatly appreciated from a ghost story.
Passages like this next one set the tone perfectly for what I’m trying to convey:
“Hildy was getting desperate. At a particularly low moment, she even entertained the thought of killing someone, because then their ghost would haunt her—but that didn’t seem like a very good way to start a friendship, and she quickly abandoned the idea.”
Cocobolo: 4.5/5 stars“As a boy, Zheng worshipped his father. This was during the reign of Kublai Khan in ancient China, long before Europe ruled the seas, and his father, Liu Zhi, was a famous ocean explorer.”
Zheng’s father, a famous ocean explorer, disappeared when he was just ten.
“Liu Zhi’s final expedition had been to discover the island of Cocobolo, long thought legendary, where it was said rubies grew on trees and liquid gold pooled in vast lakes.”
Before leaving, he told Zheng to come looking for him if he should not return. And, after having frightful nightmares featuring Liu Zhi, his son was ready to go seek for his father. Zheng’d made a promise to his father and he intended to fulfill it.
“If I should never return, promise you’ll come looking for me one day. Don’t let grass grow under your feet!”
Turns out that that mysterious sentiment had been a message—a coded message. His father knew something peculiar was going to happen because the same had happened to him.
This was exactly my kind of tale because I love anything magical. And in this case Zheng listened to his prophetic dreams and let them guide him to Liu Zhi. “If that didn’t work, he would listen to the whales.”
It’s an incredible read about fate and destiny. And that ending was damn beautiful.
The Pigeons of Saint Paul’s: 3.5/5 starsAccording to Millard Nullings, the story of the pigeons and their cathedral is one of the oldest in peculiar folklore.
The pigeons are terribly grumpy that human buildings happen to intrude upon what the pigeons considered their private domain. So, pigeons being democratic and all, they decide to show the humans what’s what.
“Of course, the pigeons knew they couldn’t win a war against humans—nor did they want to. (Who would drop scraps for them to eat if the humans were dead?) But pigeons are experts in the art of sabotage, and with a clever combination of disruption and vandalism, they began a centuries-long fight to keep the humans at ground level, where they belonged.”
But they don’t quite understand what their effort might result in.
This short story is the perfect example of what “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” means.
The Girl Who Could Tame Nightmares: 4.5/5 starsEleven- year-old Lavinia wanted nothing more than to become a doctor just like her father.
“She would have made an excellent doctor—but her father insisted it wasn’t possible. He had a kind heart, too, and merely wanted to save his daughter from disappointment; at that time there were no female doctors in America at all.”
But Lavinia would not be discouraged. She made a promise to herself that she would discover a cure for something. One day she would be famous.
And that day comes when Lavinia realizes she could help her younger brother, Douglas, who had always suffered from bad dreams.
“As word of Lavinia’s mysterious talent spread, their house began to receive a steady stream of visitors, all of whom wanted Lavinia to take away their nightmares. Lavinia was thrilled; perhaps this was how she was meant to help people.”
She’s the girl that can take away nightmares by sticking her fingers into the patient’s ear and pulling out a mass of thready black stuff.
But things start to get a bit messy with Lavinia taking surge at her new peculiarity.
“Some people deserved their nightmares, her father had said, and it occurred to her that just because she took them didn’t mean she had to keep them. She could be the Robin Hood of dreams, relieving good people of their nightmares and giving them to the wicked—and as a bonus she wouldn’t have a ball of nightmare thread following her around all the time!”
Such a fascinating take on what it means to be good or bad, and the consequences of having power over people.
Like MN said, this tale warns peculiar children that there are some talents that are simply too complex and dangerous to use, and are better left alone.
The Locust: 3.5/5 starsWe start with an introduction to a hard-working immigrant from Norway named Edvard who went to America to seek his fortune.
After settling down for a few years, his hard work prospered a little and he found a loving wife with whom he started a family when she gave birth to a baby boy.
But something was wrong with the baby: “its heart was so big that one side of its chest was noticeably larger than the other.”
Upon taking his child to see old Erick, Edvard discovers that to his dismay his son – Ollie – is peculiar.
The older and sweeter Ollie becomes, the more his father felt his heart hardening against his son.
“Worst of all, the boy was enslaved to the whims of his too-large heart. He fell in love in an instant. By the age of seven he had proposed marriage to a classmate, a neighbor girl, and the young woman who played the organ at church, fifteen years his senior. If ever a bird should fall from the sky, Ollie would sniffle and cry over it for days. When he realized that the meat on his dinner plate came from animals, he refused to eat it ever again. The boy’s insides were made of goo.”
This was such a special take on loving someone and learning to accept them despite being stuck to your principles and prejudice.
The Boy Who Could Hold Back the Sea: 3.5/5 stars“There was once a peculiar young man named Fergus who could harness the power of the currents and tides.”
Fergus is one of the best fisherman to ever exist, but with his mother dying, he makes a promise to never expose his talent:
“As she lay dying, his mother made him promise to leave for the coast as soon as she was in the ground. “With your talent, you’ll be the best fisherman who ever lived, and you’ll never have to go hungry again. But never tell anyone what you can do, son, or people will make your life hell.”
But, of course, when Fergus breaks his promise, consequences follow quickly.
The story was a very compelling take of trying to play hero and the aftermaths of it.
The Tale of Cuthbert: 4.5/5 stars“Once upon a peculiar time, in a forest deep and ancient, there roamed a great many animals.”
In the age where giants still roamed the earth, Cuthbert – the kindly giant – stopped hunters from hunting the peculiar animals in this story. The animals greatly appreciated his kindness, and soon animals all over were coming to him every day, asking for help to be lifted out of danger.
“I’ll protect you, little brothers and sisters. All I ask in return is that you talk to me and keep me company. There aren’t many giants left in the world, and I get lonely from time to time.”
And they said, “We will, Cuthbert, we will.”
But then a witch comes to avenge the family of the hunter Cuthbert squashed, and the story takes a rather dark turn.
I thought this collection was going to end with a happily ever after… and thankfully Millard Nullings agreed because he took the liberty to improvise a new and less dire conclusion.
If this collection didn’t convince me to pick up Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I don’t know what will. Like, this was everything I wanted from Ransom Riggs. EVERYTHING.
Close family relationships ✓
No unnecessary romance ✓
Gorgeous illustrations ✓
Tales of the Peculiar continued to greatly surprise me because each story got to my heart one by one. What more could a girl want?