Charlotte Bronte in Wales? Although Wales is better known for Welsh writer Dylan Thomas (“A Child’s Christmas In Wales”), Charlotte Bronte, author of “Jane Eyre,” spent the first night of her honeymoon in Conwy, Wales. Charlotte and her husband, then continued on to Ireland for their honeymoon. Charlotte was dead before they could return to celebrate their first anniversary.
Conwy claims another literary reference from Ellis Peters’s “Chronicles of Brother Cadfael.” The Benedictine crime solver was born in 1080 in Conwy, in North Wales. Cadfael joined the cloister after living a full life as a crusader, and spends his days gardening, creating medicines for the abbey hospital, and solving murders through a series of twenty books. I’ve downloaded the first book- “A Morbid Taste for Bones” to read while I travel through this land of medieval castles and the legends of King Arthur.
Grandpa Portman’s stories of war monsters and his childhood escape from Poland to a safe haven at a Welsh orphanage were magical to young Jake. But as he grew older, Jake thought of them as concocted tales with fantastic doctored pictures that his grandfather used to entertain – until his grandfather’s brutal death, and the cryptic message in his dieing words. In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs creates a world of fantasy mixed with history of World War II and a cast of strange characters.
In an effort to cure his nightmares and to uncover his grandfather’s secrets, teenager Jake and his father travel to the Welsh island to revisit the bombed orphanage. Jake discovers a trunk full of old photographs, some copies of those his grandfather used in telling his stories. Was there really a boy whose body was full of bees that escaped when he opened his mouth, a girl who could levitate, another girl with a mouth in the back of her head?
As Jake continues to pursue the mystery of his Grandpa Portman’s past, Gothic elements seep into the narrative: a 2700 year old body of a sixteen year old preserved in the bog, hearts pickled in jars, a peregrine falcon who appears at Jake’s bedside. Riggs also borrows from several familiar characters – Edward Scissorhands, Harry Potter and friends, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck family; he even throws in time travel. Be prepared to suspend belief and enjoy yourself.
Jake accidentally solves his grandfather’s directive and finds the “peculiar children,” each with particular powers – think X men in training. Every adventure must have villains, and when they appear, the action gets scary with the battle of good vs evil.
But the adventure is just beginning for Jake, and the next book in the series is due out in the Spring of 2013.
Riggs conveniently includes real old black and white photographs reprinted throughout the story – one of the best parts of the book. The eerie pictures from vintage collections or garage sales – all credited at the end of the book – bring life to the action: a little boy in a bunny suit, planes in the air, a lighted tunnel, and all those “peculiar” children.