Samuel J Halpin invites readers to a thrilling adventures in YA novel 'The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods' [Book Review]

A young girl travels on a train to visit her grandmother for the very first time

John Millen |

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By Samuel J Halpin

Published by Usborne

ISBN 978 1 4749 5660    

Samuel J Halpin’s debut novel starts off with a young girl travelling on a train to visit a relative she doesn’t know. Poppy’s dad has packed her off for a two week stay with her grandmother whilst he goes off to Canada on a cycling holiday.

These elements might just be a bit recognisable to YA readers. 

But there is something promising about Halpin’s writing in the first few pages of The Peculiar Peggs Of Riddling Woods. There is something different hanging in the air over this familiar opening set-up. It just could be that readers are in for a bit of a surprise. 

The first clear signpost that we are about to read something special comes when we meet Poppy’s gran. She is an eccentric seamstress and costume designer. She isn’t famous, but her wonderful costumes are.

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Gran’s house is packed with materials, buttons, and colour. Perhaps Poppy is not going to be as bored with spending two weeks with Gran as she thought she might be. But Poppy cannot quite understand the house rules that Gran gives her. 

Hide the sugar, never dust the windowsills, and take in all the laundry from the washing-line in the garden before 6pm. And always lock your bedroom window at night. What is all that about?

Gran just nods her head wisely, and refuses to explain when Poppy asks questions.

Gran lives in a sleepy town in the countryside called Suds. What sort of name is that for a town? Poppy will soon find out. Halpin is brilliant at presenting the characters who live  in the town, and much of the first half of his novel is character driven. 

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It isn’t long before Poppy gets herself a sidekick in the shape of a white-haired boy, Erasmus Tall. 

Erasmus is as odd as the adult inhabitants of Suds. He warns Poppy that for many years now, children have been disappearing. They haven’t gone missing. They have simply faded away. 

Could this be anything to do with the ancient Helligan Mills in nearly Riddling Woods and the three witchlike sisters who live there weaving beautiful fabrics and occasionally flying over the town in a wicker washing basket? 

Poppy and Erasmus might just be the duo needed to solve the mystery of the Peggs of Helligan Mills. It’s time to creep into Riddling Woods and find out exactly what is going on there.

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The Peculiar Peggs Of Riddling Woods is an addictive modern fairy tale best read by torchlight. But lock your window and hide the sugar first.

Halpin is a new writer with a unique imagination evident on every page of his novel. If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone. The Peggs are waiting. And who knows what exactly they are waiting for?

John Millen can be contacted at [email protected]

Edited by Ginny Wong