The original Miss Peregrine trilogy is flat-out perfect. I read the first one in one day, Hollow City upped the suspense and universe, and by the time I finished Library of Souls, I had a goofy grin on my face like I’d won a trip to Aruba, along with an all expense paid tour of the actual world of Peculiardom. In fact, Library of Souls is one of my favourite books of all time and it’s going to stay that way perhaps forever. So I was both excited and worried when Riggs announced he was making more books in the world, primarily because as much as I admitted there was more in this universe that could be explored, I felt Jacob and Emma and the rest of the peculiars were in the right place to cap off. Then A Map of Days ripped a hole in the happy ending and I was impressed by how angry and sad it made me feel as well as excited for the next books, so I gave it a generous grade close to 4/4. The Conference of the Birds was a little disappointing, practically retconning the last book’s cliffhanger, but it had a nice setup for this book and a fun adventure around a prophecy, so I gave it 3/4. And in the end, you maybe shouldn’t trust me on this one. If you love this series like I do, you just might love the new final chapter, as it will have so much of what you’ve been waiting for. I myself am thoroughly surprised about the rating I decided to give after I sat down to type this review.
As the sixth novel of this series, how can I best explain a synopsis? Jacob Portman and his new girlfriend Noor Pradesh were able to find Velya, or V, Noor’s adoptive mother, after loads of riddle deciphering. But Percival Murnau ambushed them, killed her, and when the two kids are able to return by the skin of their teeth to their new home, Devil’s Acre, it becomes clear Caul, Miss Alma Peregrine’s spiteful brother who was the original antagonist and got swallowed up by the Library of Souls in the long-lost loop of Abaton, is back. In fact, it couldn’t be clearer, because he announces his presence to peculiardom and drops flyers, showing he can surpass protections, and stoking hatred to those who will listen on the ruling ymbrynes. Caul also apparently is a god now, having absorbed peculiar souls and their powers, making him perhaps invincible. Noor is their only hope, prophesied as one of seven light eaters (light is Noor’s very rare peculiar ability), leading to finding out from best guesses and clues found in the spines of the oldest books, where Noor and the six others are supposed to meet to bring down Caul before he dooms all peculiars to slavery and inescapable eternities of labour.
The original charm of the first Miss Peregrine book that has transcended across all the books, including this one, was how Riggs so cleverly put real-life photographs taken and kept preserved for generations and created a universe of magic that may actually be real. He has admitted every photograph, with the exception of some side artwork like stamps or text, has been unaltered. The thing about this book is, as I read along, I saw the photographs explaining what was just described, and they were always described accurately, but with this being the final book, I wanted ends tied up and I cared more about the fate of the characters than further peculiar topping. What’s Jacob’s future relationship with his parents? With his old friends and life? With Emma and Noor? After five books, I didn’t care much anymore about how abnormal or creepy the world of peculiars really is. The freakiness has long settled in, like a coffee that really doesn’t need more sugar. The other books, especially the first three, used the photographs alongside their story. This one seems to use the photographs as props during the story, pausing to share a picture and work hard to come up with what circumstance it’s from instead of letting the story just tell itself. Too much of this final chapter feels like it’s dragging its feet.
So, let me say what I did really like about this book, because I enjoyed it as much as you can enjoy a 2-star book. There are some fun present-day freakouts about peculiars exposed to magic, especially a plot point where the world is really exposed and memory wipes are impossible. This was something I was glad about by the end, because it made me think about what kind of life Jacob’s parents might go down after they were unable to accept him in the fourth book. Addison the dog steals every scene he’s in. There’s also a duly exciting adventure through war-torn France in 1916 through No Man’s Land, along with the death of a minor character that actually truly made me sad. Caul returning was a terrific choice to cap off the series, and his propaganda was actually sympathetic. The decisions the ymbrynes were making were not beneficial for everyone, and the book is willing to really show it. There’s a scene where Miss Peregrine is caught in a lie by the most devout of her children, Claire and Olive, and it was a reminder how grown-ups aren’t as perfect as some kids envision. The ending fight had just enough pages to not be concise or overbloated, but simply fast-paced and satisfactory.
Then there are some things about the ending that made some of the thrills wear off. I never got over Jacob and Emma’s breakup in the fourth book, primarily because I’m a lover boy and the adventure they had, how Emma had been in lonely isolation for decades, as well as how they capped off the third book with the phrase “We have time”, made me wish for more acknowledgment about why they ended things, and the fifth book addressed it a little, but in the end, I was just unable to connect with Jacob and Noor nearly as strongly. I felt if there was more discussion as to why Jacob and Emma stopped things and stayed stopped, and the feelings Jacob and Noor really have for each other, I would’ve been into it more. Plus there’s a thing about Jacob’s parents that felt unclear. I think it’s going to work a certain way, but a line Jacob says was cruel and even kind of inapposite.
So, The Desolations of Devil’s Acre was more exciting and adventurous than The Conference of the Birds, but I couldn’t help but feel the premise was getting a bit tired, and this last adventure gave me the feeling it’s time for Ransom Riggs to move on from Jacob Portman. I had to debate in my head for a moment what my grade truly was, and I sadly had to paste my first negative grade for a Miss Peregrine book if I was going to be completely honest. If Riggs is going to continue making books based around unexplainable photographs or make another book set in the Peculiarverse, I will still be interested. He’s crafted a universe with a Harry Potter level of sophistication, politics, and dimension. Whatever he picks, I hope he’ll be able to return to the magic of when Jacob first thought those photographs his grandpa showed him, of the boy swarmed with bees and the girl floating in the air, were doctored.
If you like this, I’d try Asylum by Madeleine Roux