The Conference of the Birds — “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” Series

Book cover picture of The Conference of the Birds.

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Book Review

The Conference of the Birds continues the series Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, as Jacob Portman tries to follow through on a mission given to him by his dying grandfather. He must help fulfill a prophecy, or certain doom will befall both the normal and peculiar worlds.

Plot Summary

With his dying words, an aging man named H asks his grandson Jacob to help a new peculiar (a child with special powers) named Noor to escape a hidden time loop she has been trapped in. H wants Jacob to get Noor to V, the last living hollow-slayer, for Noor’s protection. The only clues to V’s whereabouts, though, are a piece of a map and garbled instructions. H sacrifices himself willingly because he believes Noor is part of a prophecy in which she, along with six others, will save the world of peculiars.

With the aid of his friends, Bronwyn and Hugh, Jacob helps Noor escape and get to their home with Miss Peregrine, now in Devil’s Acre. At home, the rest of Jacob’s friends join in on the adventure. Olive, Emma, Claire, Millard, Horace and Enoch want to help Jacob and Noor, no matter the costs. (Fiona, one of their group from previous books, is missing.) 

Miss Peregrine joins them, and they discuss the prophecy involving Noor and the bit of map that leads to the mysterious V. However, the map has no location markers, so it is impossible to place it. The group looks to Millard, a scholar of all things peculiar, to search the archives and find the location of the map fragment and more information about the prophecy.

Miss Peregrine has been busy, too. She is part of the Conference of the Birds. There, the ymbrynes—the females who watch over groups of peculiar children—are in discussions with American clan leaders to keep war from breaking out. The negotiation gets interrupted when a bomb goes off, and the evil wights escape prison.

One wight that that has escaped is Percival Murnau, the evil Caul’s second in command. They find out that the wights are working to resurrect Caul and free him from the closed loop Miss Peregrine trapped him in. To do this, they are collecting items, dark items, needed for the resurrection.

As Jacob and Noor’s initial attraction grows into a relationship, they struggle to handle everything. They must help keep peace between the American clans, stop the wights from getting the ingredients to resurrect Caul, and still find V, who has purposely hidden herself away from Noor. The odds are against them and the clues are baffling, but the group works together to save their world and each other. 

Christian Beliefs

There is no coherent Christian theology in this story. But we do hear references with spiritual or even biblical undertones here and there. For instance, Miss Peregrine talks about a large-scale war between powerful peculiar factions—an event she says would make it look like the “end times were upon them.”

Elsewhere, Jacob feels guilt when seeing where a hollow (a creature with a hollowed-out heart and soul) had been held prisoner. The walls are stained with the hollow’s tears; Jacob realizes that even though the hollowgast is a monster, it still experienced pain and fear. Also, the evil plan to resurrect Caul from a closed loop nods at the idea of bringing someone back from the dead. The group’s home is in a place called Devil’s Acre. And finally, the prophecy connected to Noor briefly refers to a “prophecy” from the book of Revelation in the Bible.

 

Other Belief Systems

The whole Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series is built on the supposition that peculiar folk are a branch of humanity possessing a second soul which manifests itself in abnormal characteristics and abilities. And those special people are kept hidden from “normal” eyes by certain magical means, such as repeating loops of time from the past.  

Authority Roles

Noor’s parents were killed when she was a baby. And Jacob’s parents never really understood or cared for him. Their memory of Jacob was eventually wiped from their minds. The ymbrynes, like Miss Peregrine, watch over the peculiar children. They care and are protective of their wards, almost to a fault. They keep things from the children and make questionable decisions on their behalf. However, toward the end, Miss Peregrine realizes her “children” can handle the difficult situations they find themselves in.

Profanity & Violence

The phrase “For bird’s sake!” is used like a profanity a few times. We also read a smattering of other vulgarities, including uses of “a–hole,” “h—,” “d–n,” “b–tard” and the s-word. Finally, the Lord’s name is used in vain once.

 The peculiar world leans towards horror. Even simple mud contains flesh-eating microbes. So, while nothing is ever graphic, this story world can be uncomfortable and dangerous. Many of the peculiars are, well … peculiar. Their appearance can disturb a bit with missing limbs, boils, or extra eyes Also, many of the entrances for their Panloopticons, a portal between loops, have a morbid feel. One goes through an old insane asylum, another a deep mine shaft and another a morgue.

The hollowgasts, also called hollows, are frightening creatures that only Jacob can see. They have several tongues and are incredibly strong and vicious. At one point, a dead body is animated and talks to Jacob. In one loop, peculiar children can re-animate the dead. They have an entire city of dead adults, like zombies, under their control. (Of note, those adults were killed by a local chemical-plant explosion and not by the children. However, the children have no qualms about letting the zombies be killed again.)

It takes six dark ingredients to resurrect a particular character. Two of them, an uberworm casting and a spark stone, are removed from two different children’s bodies. Those acts don’t kill the children, but they do cause them great harm. Two other ingredients are a beetle and bones, which do not cause harm to living things but are macabre. The last two ingredients, the tongue of a seedsprout and a still-beating heart, are bloody and gruesome. One character has her tongue cut out, and another’s heart is removed

There is a drug like substance known as ambrosia. It can make a peculiar stronger for just a few minutes, which is like a rush. The users then need more and thus become addicted, but at the price of disfigurement as part of their face melts. One addict, for example, uses more and more of the substance until he is decapitated.

Sexual Content

An attraction gradually grows between Noor and Jacob. Their relationship progresses as they notice each other, talk late into the night, hug, sit next to each other holding hands and kiss. First there is a kiss on her head and finally a kiss on the lips.

Emma, Jacob’s original love interest in the first book, is jealous of Noor in the beginning. However, Emma and Jacob talk privately and realize they’re not suited for each other. They both agree that a romantic relationship would not work between them and decide to be friends.

Jacob is a celebrity of sorts because of his heroic deeds in previous stories in the series. At one point, a peculiar girl, who is a fan of Jacob’s, asks if she can have a kiss. Jacob is too embarrassed to respond, but someone else offers to take the kiss. The girl ignores this offer.

Discussion Topics

What do you think about the characters? Whom do you admire and why? Were you able to look past the unsettling surface of a character to his or her heart?

How do we benefit when we look past an appearance that is not normal in our world and look at the heart of the person?

This series focuses a bit on the macabre, the peculiar and slightly creepy. Are you a fan of the peculiar world here? If so, why do you think that is? What aspects of it do identify with?

Kenneth Burke said, “Stories are equipment for living.” How do you think this story world equips readers? How might it help you face the dark things that exist in your world? What insights do you think it offers readers?

What elements in the story, if any, make you uncomfortable? When something we’re reading generates that response, how do you know whether to press through it or perhaps to set a particular story or book aside?

Get free discussion questions other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

Another element of this book worth noting is the author’s inclusion of real vintage photographs to illustrate the story’s characters. It adds an interesting touch and a … peculiar effect, as some pictures are slightly disturbing. A visually sensitive young reader might be disturbed by some of these odd images.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Danielle Pitzer

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