The winner of the Fourth Annual Chicken House/London Times fiction contest is an imaginative mystery calledFreaks, by debut author Kieran Larwood. First we meet Sheba, part girl, part wolf. Shebas life is looking pretty bleak. She knows nothing about where she came from, and life consists of a cage at the end of the pier where shes a two-bit sideshow. If I were her, Id learn how to pick locks, too. Soon shes purchased by a man named Plumpscuttle who takes her to London with his band of Peculiars, an odd lot consisting of Gigantus, a giant of a man, Sister Moon, a girl ninja with catlike eyes and reflexes, Mama Rat and her circus of performing rats. and a foul-mouthed Monkeyboy. Now Sheba finds herself part of a new sideshow, which isnt that much better until she realizes this odd lot offers her friendship shes never known. One day, a poor girl named Till sneaks into the show. She and Sheba take a shine to one another, but unbeknownst to Sheba, Till goes missing the very next day. Till is a mudlark, a child so poor she joins other children to drench through the waterfront to discover anything that might be of value. A monster has been spotted really a mechanical octopus operated by one of a diabolical band of Victorian villains. It takes Till, and other of the mudlarks, too. Children that the police wouldnt care to look for. Children that wont be missed . . . except, of course, by their parents. Tills parents visit the Peculiars hoping for some help. Before they know it, the Peculiars are on the case, fighting for those who no one else will fight for. (They kinda know how it feels.) It turns out, having wolflike or catlike or monkeylike senses doesnt hurt when your working out a mystery. Having the citys rats and the strength of a giant doesnt hurt, either. Freaksis a delightful, page-turning mystery with characters unlike any book youve read. The bad guys are great fun, too, and as she puzzles through the mystery, Sheba also gets information about her past. The backdrop for all of this intrigue is Victorian England during the time of the Great Exhibition, and the history plays so nicely into the plot. Your middle grade reader is sure to enjoy. Freaksis ripe for more books in a series, and a movie adaptation. I could totally see someone turning it into a steampunk masterpiece.