On my old website, Weldon Witness, I reviewed all the other Miss Peregrine books, and long story short, the first three make up my favourite series of all time. Like, surpasses every other series in the world. I was thrilled when Riggs announced a continuation just like his wife Tahereh Mafi is doing the same with her Shatter Me series, and the continuation of the world of ymbrynes, hollowgasts, peculiars and wights, A Map of Days, was very layered, dramatizing, fun, and almost on the same level as the others, but it was a “too bad” kind of almost. Still, just like the first two books, A Map of Days had a cliffhanger that made me count down the days before the release of this book. So my expectations were very high…and for the first time they weren’t quite completely delivered in this fifth entry.
If you would like to read my reviews of the first four books, here they are:
Much has happened in the last four Miss Peregrine books. Jacob went from a regular boring and bored Florida resident disbelieving his beloved grandfather about the kids he lived with over his childhood in the second world war, to hero of the hidden world of peculiars, hollowgast slayer and continuing an established legacy as a grandson. However, when he met Noor, a peculiar girl with light manipulation abilities who’s been in hiding for years, Jacob desires to imitate the actions of his late grandfather and do the right thing even though it tangles him and his friends up in ever-increasing tension between regular peculiars and the dominating senate of ymbrynes, which causes their beloved ymbryne Miss Alma Peregrine to expose a dark, angry side.
After a failed mission to save Noor from a wight by the name of Leo Burnham and get her to someone by the name of V, the peculiar children have walked away from Jacob, including his girlfriend Emma. But Jacob’s not done resisting those who don’t understand him, and when he finds a clue to get to Noor, who’s under attack by kidnappers, it’s up to him and him alone to be the hero, thereby kicking off The Conference of the Birds.
There are several reasons why I love the Miss Peregrine series. I bought the first book four years ago and didn’t get on it until the movie arrived. I was expecting to see it with a friend one evening and decided to skim-read the first one since I had nothing else before that. And I devoured about half of it in just a little over an hour, and I was having a surge of fun that rivaled most blockbuster movies. Ransom Riggs created a refreshingly original fantasy world that did not clutter up the pages with exhausting exposition, the indescribable real-life photographs put in throughout the book allow the reading to feel like it’s going faster in taking up a whole page for each one (in a good way, trust me), and all the characters are four-dimensional, from Jacob to Emma to Miss Peregrine to the other children to the main antagonist Caul to Jacob’s aspiring and failing travel writer of a father.
And this fast pace, photography wonderment, and character love kept itself going the whole way, and all of the above fortunately stays in this fifth entry. However, there are two main reasons I find it the weakest entry in the series so far.
For starters, a lot was hanging on how the book would begin, because of the cliffhanger from A Map of Days. That ending made me angry at many of the protagonists, and angry at the general circumstance. Riggs really effectively tore up many of the established friendships shockingly. I was expecting that to carry for a significant amount of this book, but in reality, it didn’t very much. I got the impression Riggs changed his mind, or decided letting us carry the burden of the torn-up relationship as we awaited for this next entry was enough. Jacob early on in this book thinks Miss Peregrine was completely wise and pretty much never wrong, and forgive me if I don’t quite see his logic at that moment. I felt there were about 80 pages missing from the beginning.
The second issue is how I feel a fair amount of this book is set up not to be a grand adventure, but to take a breather and look around, to further establish the world of peculiardom. That isn’t entirely bad. We get to digest peculiar politics a little bit here, and we explore how far the secrets of this society have really gotten for who are defined as normals. The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell described them as The Sundren. But this is the first book to feel like not much is at stake in this exact moment, even though technically, there is; just behind a curtain.
With all that said, it does not simply shrug off hope for excitement and heartbreak. Emma ends up apologizing for something quite disrespectful she said in the last book, allowing for an intimate moment, and considering I’ve cared since the beginning about how far their relationship would go, it was a welcome touch. We get reintroduced to a character I’ve been very curious about, leading to a very heartwarming reunion. There is a clever formula involving something dastardly someone by the name of Murnau is after, and the ingredients he hasn’t collected yet lead to the peculiars brainstorming and guessing against the clock. There’s a prison escape in Devil’s Acre that sends the impression some anarchy is just around the corner.
What you’ll get out of The Conference of the Birds most is, words that needed to be said were said. We get some very big development to properly establish the entirety of this hidden society, letting us imagine what kind of lives we would be living and what powers we would hope to have. We meet more characters further against ymbrynes, further layering the realities of peculiars. We get further romance and we don’t know whether to swoon or feel slightly troubled. The photos are still expertly crafted into the story, making them the brilliant addition without taking over the heart or wit of the story of Jacob Portman. There’s another cliffhanger that suggests a tragedy and a big nightmare ahead of us, plus another new (or old) antagonist. I guess it’s up to Riggs how to toy with us. With all that said, this is more of an appetizer for the upcoming (supposed) final book, a storytelling decision the other books avoided.