- Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.
Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie are changelings, also known as Peculiars—half-human, half-fae, and scorned by pretty much everyone. Forced to stay hidden inside the house for his own protection, the only thing Bartholomew wants is a friend, and when the closest thing to it—the Peculiar boy from across the street—vanishes into a ring of black feathers at the hands of a mysterious lady in plum, he sets out to find out what's going on and hopefully find another friend—forgetting the rules and getting himself noticed. Seriously noticed.
Arthur Jelliby is too nice to be a very good politician. All he wants is to sleep until noon, make social calls, and spend time with his darling wife, but when Parliament gets involved with the sinister circumstances around the recent murders of nine child changelings, Mr. Jelliby—quite by accident—finds himself investigating the powerful Lord Chancellor Lickerish, and promptly decides to set out and stop Child Number Ten from meeting the same ghastly fate as his predecessors.
Child Number Ten, who, due to some unfortunate circumstances, happens to be Bartholomew.
This book provides examples of:
- Adorkable: Mr. Jelliby.
- Alternate History: The Americas are British-controlled, as the Revolutionary War ended in a British victory due to troll and giant interference.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The fae, it would seem, though plenty of humans are pretty nasty as well.
- Apocalypse How: Regional, though implied to have much bigger implications, when the faery door opens for the second time.
- Barrier Maiden: Played With. Hettie becomes one, but she's not protecting the barrier—she is the barrier to the Land of Faerie, and once she "opens," she becomes an Apocalypse Maiden.
- Big Brother Instinct: Bartholomew to Hettie.
- Blood on the Debate Floor: There is a major scuffle after Lickerish's fae-supporting speech.
- Clock Punk: Justified in-universe, as the leading theory is that clockwork prevents the chaotic faeries from doing mischief.
- Clockwork Creature: The mechanical messenger sparrows.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Melusine and Jack Box. She later comes to regret it."Tell Daddy I'm sorry."
- Declaration of Protection: Bartholomew to Hettie. Mr. Jelliby to Melusine, though neither of them are very familiar to each other.
- Distressed Damsel: Once Hettie gets kidnapped. Also, Melusine, who is being possessed by an evil faery. An evil faery who loves her, yes, but still...
- Demonic Possession: Jack Box takes over Melusine and then Dr. Harrow, the Sidhe specialist at the police station.
- Driven to Madness: The Buddelbinsters' faery mother.
- Elopement: Melusine and Jack Box, again.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: What the fae unleash on Mr. Jelliby once He Knows Too Much.
- The Fair Folk: Obviously.
- Fighting from the Inside: Melusine is trying to do this, though she's not doing a very good job of it. Fortunately, it draws Mr. Jelliby's attention to the case.
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: Bells toll every five minutes to ward off faery magic, so they underscore many a plaintive occasion.
- Gossipy Hens: Mr. Jelliby's Aunt Dorcas. He also has some mental Gossipy Hens giving running commentary every time he finds himself in an objectionable situation."Did you hear, Jemima, he broke down a door? Oh, yes! In the Lord Chancellor's house! You know, behind all those handsome looks and broad smiles he must be secretly quite the violent fellow.""Almost certainly, Muriel. One has to be in his profession. And how poor Ophelia is faring..."
- Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Melusine is always wearing plum-colored attire. Lickerish does not like it."You might have her change out of that horrid dress."
- Heroic Sacrifice: Bartholomew gives up Hettie for the sake of the rest of the world.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Bartholomew's greatest wish, and also his fatal flaw—summoning a house faery leads directly to Hettie getting kidnapped.
- Interspecies Romance: Bartholomew and Hettie's parents (and the parents of any changeling, usually), as well as Melusine and Jack Box, though she didn't know it at the time.
- Lack of Empathy / It's All About Me: A major plot point. Bartholomew is peculiar precisely because the rest of humans and faeries are too absorbed in their own desires to care about the Earth-Shattering Kaboom. Ultimately subverted, as Bartholomew makes his Heroic Sacrifice and prevents the faery door from opening, even though Hettie is trapped inside.
- Land of Faerie: Where the fae came from, and Lickerish is trying to get back to...
- Mixed Ancestry: Changelings such as Bartholomew and Hettie.
- Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: Parliament quickly turns into this.
- Plant Person: Hettie has tree branches for hair.
- Possession Burnout: Poor, poor Melusine...
- Spanner in the Works: Lickerish was not expecting a changeling to step through the mushroom circle on their own, which is exactly what Bartholomew does.
- Swarm of Rats: Jack Box's true form.
- Tempting Apple: Lickerish eats one very sinisterly as he waits for the door to faeryland to open.
- Title Drop: Most of the chapter titles get this. The last chapter's title is a drop of the book's title, which is dropped by Lickerish:"I thought he might be dangerous. He is not dangerous. He is not even strong. He is simply peculiar."
- Zeppelins from Another World: The Cloud That Hides The Moon.