Author: Kieran Larwood

Publication: 2012, Chicken House

Pages: 242

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary: Sheba is a freak, a wolf girl trapped in a broken down sideshow in 1850’s Britain.  Then her owner, Grunchgirdle, sells her to Plumpscuttle, who owns a successful freak show of his own in London.  There Sheba meets her new companions – The Peculiars.  There’s Monkey Boy, who swings by his tail and delights in throwing dung balls at anyone within reach, Sister Moon, a Japanese ninja who is fast and fearsome with her twin swords, Mama Rat and her circus of trained rodents, and Gigantus, the strongest man in the world.  Together, they set out in search of a missing girl who once befriended Sheba, and find themselves mired in a world of clockwork creatures and dangerous villains.

Age of Main Character: 11

What I Liked the Most: I fell in love with The Peculiars.  Each one is a vivid, larger-than-life character.  Monkey boy is a real hoot, always giving people the works, throwing poo balls, reveling in his own filth, cracking jokes, and literally bouncing off the walls.  And Gigantus is so much more than just a strong man.  When you find out what he does in his spare time you’ll break out laughing.  The Peculiars feel like the group of friends you always wish you had.

The descriptions of life in Victorian London’s east end are fantastically rich.  You can smell the muck and feel the human waste flowing through the streets.  It’s a dark and dirty place, and Larwood brings it off the page and right into your own home.

What I Liked the Least: The only real downside to this story was that two of The Peculiars were adults, and one in particular – Gigantus – shows up to rescue Sheba from certain death once too often.  He’s so strong, so powerful and intimidating, that as long as he’s around it’s hard to feel too concerned for Sheba.  I loved Gigantus as a character, but the book would have been better if he’d been a bit less powerful and intimidating, or if Larwood had found a way to tie him up so that he couldn’t be there to come to the rescue during the latter half of the book.

How Good was the Action? This is not a high action story.  It’s ripping good fun, but don’t expect non-stop fights and chases.  Most of the fights are relatively short and the action is somewhat removed since Sheba but does relatively little of the fighting.  That said there are moments of genuine tension and a few fairly taut scenes toward the end. 

How Engaging was the Story?   The characters are great fun and I found it hard to put the book down.  It was just too enjoyable getting to know The Peculiars, and delving into Larwood’s villain and the dark and mysterious challenge The Peculiars must face.  As children begin disappearing from the mudflats, and a grand steam punk monster takes to the streets, I found myself chomping at the bit to find out what was going on, following Larwood’s trail of hints and clues as Sheba and her friends doggedly pursue the case.

Overall Assessment: Freaks is pure good fun, high energy with plenty of humor and wild imagination to balance out the tension.  You’ll find yourself sucked into the dark and dirty world of Victorian London, reveling in the muck and falling in love with Sheba and her faithful band of Peculiars.

Profanity: None.

Sex: None.

Violence: Minimal.  There are some fights, and people do get hurt, but it’s never rough or gory and generally has more of a swashbuckling air.

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