By Marty Mulrooney
The Conference of the Birds is the fifth novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. It follows an original trilogy of critically acclaimed books – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City and Library of Souls – and A Map of Days, the start of a new trilogy which AMO’s review described as “slightly more grown up,” with “a narrative that feels completely natural despite its peculiarities.” In this latest peculiar adventure, Jacob Portman must deliver newly contacted peculiar Noor Pradesh to a mysterious operative known only as V. The future of all peculiardom could depend on it, but V never, ever, wants to be found…
The Conference of the Birds picks up shortly after the events of the previous novel, with Jacob and Noor on the run. Trapped in the green-glowing bowels of a Chinatown seafood market, Noor swallows the light to shroud them in darkness as dangerous men hunt them. It’s a tense opening chapter that sets the plot in motion beautifully.
Following a few close calls and a narrow escape, Jacob takes Noor back to Devil’s Acre, the late-1800s London loop that now serves as the home of him and his friends. After four books Jacob has become pretty used to the peculiar events that are always occurring around him, so it’s greatly enjoyable to re-experience some of his initial wonder and surprise through the eyes of Noor.
“My God,” Noor said, voice just above a whisper.
I was walking next to her.
“This is London. Late nineteenth century. And you’re feeling that thing again, aren’t you?”
“The can’t-be-reals,” she said, slowing long enough to reach through an open window and wipe one finger along the ledge. As we sped up to keep pace with the others, she held it up. Her finger had turned black with soot. “But it is real,” she marvelled.
With the added complication of an ancient prophecy foretelling a looming apocalypse that is somehow connected to Noor, it isn’t long before Jacob and his friends defy Miss Peregrine once again and set out across America in search of answers. Admittedly, there is a slight sense of ‘middle of the trilogy-itis’ when reading The Conference of the Birds; it can sometimes feel like a lot of peculiar things are happening without the main plot actually being advanced much (if at all).
However, the tried-and-tested formula of the series to date still has a few neat tricks up its sleeve and the vintage photography keeps getting better and better. The detours that delay the main narrative would be annoying if they weren’t so wonderful; the highlight of the book sees Jacob and Noor going inside a loop where all the adults are dead following an accident at the nearby chemical plant. The loop is ruled by young children known as ‘deadrisers’ who use the dead adults to cook, clean and serve as bodyguards. It’s the creepiest loop featured so far and quite possibly this reviewer’s all-time favourite.
The dead stopped circling the lawn and turned toward the street. All at once they reached into their waistbands and bent down to the grass to retrieve knives and cleavers. One guy, still in his fuzzy slippers, picked up a garden hoe. They swayed and wobbled on dead feet for a few seconds, then flooded into the street to intercept the hollowgast.
Delivering an action-packed final chapter that takes place inside a loop with a roaring tornado – which can only be survived by remembering a song from Noor’s childhood – and a shocking cliffhanger ending that will leave readers filled with impatience and anticipation in equal measure, The Conference of the Birds is easy to recommend to fans of the series. It may feel like it’s dragging its feet at times, but this new America-based trilogy is now perfectly positioned to go out with a great big peculiar bang.
8 OUT OF 10