Both are ugly, half-fairy changelings, or peculiars, though Bartholomew looks more human. Hettie’s ears are pointed and tree branches sprout from her scalp, making her a prime target for the kid-snatcher, who hasn’t just been plucking half-fairy children from the slums where the Kettles live. Whoever it is has been hollowing out their bodies and leaving their corpses floating in the Thames.
It’s a grim story, but Bachmann leavens the dark goings-on with whimsy, assigning characters such memorable names as Mr. Lickerish and Lord Lillicrap and, like so many beloved stories for children, casting the adults as evil villains or abject idiots.
No one in the book is more lovably idiotic than Arthur Jelliby, an unambitious, conflict-avoidant politician who’d rather buy chocolates for his wife than do any real service to the people of London. But when he inadvertently discovers the identity of the kid-snatcher, he is motivated to take action and save the changeling children.
Bachmann, who is now 18, writes as if he didn’t just read classic books. His prose is so elegantly witty, it’s as if he absorbed them and is writing by osmosis. It’s no wonder “The Peculiar" was blurbed by literary superstars Rick Riordan on its front cover and Christopher Paolini on its back. “The Peculiar" may be the book’s title, but it also applies to this unusually gifted young writer.