Paperback, ASIN: B08XYBX64Q, 336 pgs.
September 7, 2021
“Sometimes magic is spectacular, but sometimes it is merely ordinary.”
We often become heroes when we have nothing left to lose and when doing the right thing takes precedence over personal gain and comfort.
Thomas Thresher is the younger son in a banking family in 1899 London. After his father’s death, the older son, Walter, takes over Thresher’s Bank and cryptically brings the previously shunned Thomas into the fold as a junior clerk. Nothing is as it seems, and Thomas soon embarks on a mysterious and quite deadly quest for the truth hidden within the bank, his brother’s house, and several strategically located buildings throughout London. And so begins this fantastical tale of greed, secrets, peculiarities, bravery, and mettle beyond measure.
In The Peculiarities by David Liss, magical realism meets fantasy meets cautionary tale, resulting in a complex story that is sure to astound and entertain any reader who is game for an offbeat and extraordinary adventure. From the onset, Thomas and his new friends grasp at straws, trying to guess what is happening at Thresher’s Bank and in London on the brink of the twentieth century. For the past decade, people have been tormented by diabolical creatures called the Elegants and are often morphing into Peculiarities, such as wolf people, tree people, and females who mysteriously birth rabbits. On the surface, this story is immersed in the world of magic and astral projection, with real-life occultist Aleister Crowley as Thomas’s unlikely friend and champion in this bizarre journey. Go a bit deeper, and you find parallels between the unfortunate people who have transformed into Peculiarities and societal outcasts who are viewed as the Other, and thus feared and hated. Even Thomas is different because he is well on his way to succumbing to the arboreal plague; he is sprouting leaves and slowly becoming a tree. It is now a race against the clock to save the family bank from potential ruin and unearth Walter’s treachery and strange reason for ordering Thomas to marry a specific woman without delay.
Liss’s writing style is original and mosaic. The events of the overall story are fluid, and several characters are, dare we say in such a peculiar novel, charming. Thomas is a likable protagonist and an implausible hero because he is often nonplussed and a complete misfit. As the story progresses, Thomas befriends several eccentrics who offer something he has never experienced before: true friendship and acceptance.
While The Peculiarities is a comedic and often raunchy romp into a baffling, magical world that is infused with some mathematics, it is also a serious tale about a young man showing courage in the face of familial betrayal. In this journey, he sheds his inconsequential existence and shines the bright light of truth on a high level of greed, lies, and the desire for total power. Thomas is an admirable fellow because he chooses right over wrong, no matter how difficult. Consequently and even unwittingly, he unburdens the Peculiarities from their need to hide behind closed doors, allowing them to emerge as valuable contributors to society. The story ends on shaky ground but still with a note of hope and the satisfaction that this peculiar new world is now better and safer…maybe.
“The world is now an unknown place. The old rules are gone. The new rules are uncertain.”
David Liss is the author of fourteen novels, as well as numerous novellas, short stories, and comics. His previous books include A Conspiracy of Paper which was named a New York Times Notable Book and won the 2001 Barry, Macavity and Edgar Awards. The Coffee Trader (2003) was also named a New York Times Notable Book and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the year’s 25 Books to Remember. He is also the author of the middle grade Randoms series. Many of Liss’s novels are currently being developed for television or film. He has worked on numerous comics projects, including Black Panther and Mystery Men for Marvel, The Spider and Green Hornet for Dynamite, and Angelica Tomorrow. Liss lives in San Antonio with his wife and children.