The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods – Samuel J Halpin

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods ever since I saw it crop up on social media with pictures of a swirly smokey cover with purple sprayed edges and warnings you may need to hide the sugar and not be able to sleep after, something a little bit on the magic, myth and darkling side is certainly my cup of tea.

Samuel J Halpin’s debut certainly lives up to the anticipation and I savoured every page of this brilliant book.

Cover illustrated by Hannah Peck

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Wood is a deliciously gothic fairytale with a gorgeously dark twisted yarn of a Northern town haunted by a primal malevolence stealing the youth and wonder from children over generations.

In the fading days of the Summer holidays Poppy has been packed off on a train to her maternal grandmother’s home in the town of Suds when she picks up a mysterious green book.

Her eccentric sweetie guzzling grandmother has certain rules by which to live including hiding the sugar and NEVER to dust the windowsills.

Teaming up with local boy Erasmus, and s miniature pig called Churchill, they set out to uncover the mystery of the book and the stories of children turning grey and disappearing over the decades

“I don’t believe in feelings or premonitions or things that go bump in the night. But somehow- I don’t know how- I just know that all this has something to do with the Peggs, whatever or whoever they are” Erasmus Tall in The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Wood

The book is full of deeply crafted and enthralling characters, with flamboyant eccentrics rubbing shoulders with the everyday mundane yet are equally lavished with fleshed out personalities, no cardboard cut outs or scene fillers here, Halpin has lovingly honed his players to perfection especially the indomitable Gran with her wonderful whimsical weirdness.

Poppy and Erasmus are brilliant protagonists, they are children that stand out rather than fit in with Poppy’s precocious outlook and Erasmus’ Sherlockian observation and inductive reasoning they are tumbled together perfectly bringing out equally the best and what has been neglected in each other.

Poppy’s grief for her mother is omnipresent but is gently respected and there is a quiet coming of age awakening with her throughout the novel allowing her to regard her late mother as more than just a mum but someone who had hopes, intelligence and incredible courage as the story unfolds.

There will undoubtably be comparisons made with legendary children’s writers particularly Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman and indeed it has Gaiman’s approach of embracing the dark and it is resonating with Dahlian undertones of keeping windows shut against nefarious night time visitors and a closed but mysteriously working factory however Peggs are so much more than a twist on old greats.

The imagination of Halpin weaves a dark tapestry of childhood imagination, steeped in folklore and mythology but not your singing the birds from the trees and happily ever after fairy tales.

This clearly is a labour of love, perfected and honed to this utter beauty of a book, inside and out with its storytelling and illustrations by Hannah Peck to its purple sprayed edges. Peck’s use of twists and twirls against angular sharpness gives a whimsical and woodsy punctuation to the pages.

This is a standout debut and a MUST read for 2019, I await more from Mr Halpin with baited breath.

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J Halpin, illustrated by Hannah Peck is published by Usborne.

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