Today I am sharing my review of a recent eARC of mine: The Shop on Peculiar Hill by Grimly Darkwood. Thanks to Simon for his patience in getting this review together!
- When I read the summary for this novel, I was intrigued. It sounded like a fun, clever new fantasy world. However, I didn’t connect with this novel as I hoped I would.
- To be fair, I read this as a PDF mostly on my computer which isn’t my favorite mode of reading. And I was offered a paperback copy but didn’t think it would be so hard to get into the digital copy.
According to Amazon, “When Peter comes to live with his aunt and uncle at the shop on Peculiar Hill, he has a lot to learn. What are bogeys and heeble-greebs and the other fierce creatures which live in the nearby Vale of Strange? Why is it so important to wear a hat and sturdy boots? And what is this stuff called Strangeness which comes bubbling out of the ground? When Peter discovers the dark secret which lurks at the heart of this place, he finds his efforts to make things better do not go according to plan. He sets out to make amends with the aid of his new friend, Amanda, but how can he know that requesting her help will prove to be such a very big mistake?”
The characters are quirky and easy to rout for. Peter was a likable protagonist with good intentions in the face of intense opposition. I would have liked even more details about his history before coming to Peculiar Hill and more focus on his adventures in the Vale of Strange. I enjoyed Amanda’s antics and unreliable storytelling. She’s a quirky, loyal friend. But I must admit I rolled my eyes at her relationship with Peter on several occasions. They don’t seem to ever quite be in sync. Uncle Bob made me laugh because of his interest in strange things and his inability to have a conversation with Peter that actually teaches him anything. I also enjoyed his bazooka. Little Algernon was a perfect, innocent victim to the fantasy creatures in the novel. Although I wasn’t ever quite sure how old he was.
The first half of the novel was slow for me to get invested in and I didn’t connect with the big plot twists. While I enjoy the way we are thrown into the middle of the story, it felt a bit contrived for me. I didn’t connect with the setting or the characters like I expected it. Also, I felt that the government connection to the tourism industry in the Vale was a bit arbitrary. I think it hinders the magic of the story because it makes the big secret political. I also didn’t connect with the way the people that live near the Vale of strange treat tourists as lesser human beings. That didn’t really work for me. It felt too unbelievable. Perhaps if the tourism industry was described in more detail that would help. I’m not sure. But it didn’t feel real for me as it is.
My favorite part of the novel was the big adventure in the Vale of Strange. Finally in the second half of the novel, things get more exciting! Peter and Amanda go on their adventure into the Vale of Strange to rescue the little tourist Algernon from the “Bogeys.” The creatures they meet and the action is a lot of fun to read. This was the part that had me turning pages quickly and comparing some of the creatures to those found in Fablehaven or Harry Potter. But those moments passed too quickly for me. I would have preferred more time spent in that adventure and a lot less time spent in the build up to that adventure.
I will admit I don’t think I’m in the target audience for this book. I think 10 year old boys would love this book and the action packed scenes in the Vale especially. Because I’m not in that audience, I didn’t enjoy some of the details as much as a younger boy would. Plus, the ending leaves plenty of space for a sequel or full series exploring the Vale of Strange for more adventures for a younger audience.
All this is to say that I enjoyed this novel but I didn’t love it. The new fantasy world is clever but not as well developed as it could be. I enjoyed the characters but would have liked less build up to the big action.
Thanks to Grimly Darkwood for an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
What are some of your favorite fantasy worlds?
Do you prefer digital or hard copy ARCs?