Lonely Lena Mattacascar heads to the border to find a father she barely remembers and an answer to her unusual appearance.
Armed with a letter and money from her absent father, 18-year-old Lena leaves her dour mother and grandmother and takes the train toward Scree—wilderness, penal colony and rumored reservation for Peculiars, humanoid creatures with tell-tale abnormalities. Cursed with elongated fingers and feet, Lena both fears that she may be a Peculiar and hopes that she may find acceptance in Scree. Obstacles plague Lena’s journey, and she is soon stranded in the faded seaside town of Knob Knoster. While seeking a guide and more money for her expedition, she finds herself working at Mr. Beasley’s steampunk-esque Zephyr House alongside the endearingly earnest librarian Jimson Quiggley, on a secret mission from the charismatic blackmailer Marshal Saltre. Set in a vaguely Victorian world, Gothic elements permeate the story: a mysterious house, an abundance of secrets, odd servants and competing romantic figures, though Lena’s shame over her abnormalities alienates her from both Saltre and Quigley. The sporadic action scenes feel artificial, but the ambiguity surrounding the existence of Peculiars and the origin of their physical deformities—magic? genetics?—is thought-provoking.
A slow but richly atmospheric read. (Steampunk. 12 & up)