Next up: “The Child Thief” by Brom
Brom is an artist as well as an author, so there are some really nice illustrations included in the book. The story is based on Peter Pan, but this is definitely not a children’s book.
In this dark, twisted retelling of Peter Pan, Peter is not the Puckish young hero we’re all familiar with. Instead, this Peter lures troubled youths away from the real world with promises of better lives– no grown-ups, no problems, lives of magic and adventure. But all is not as it seems. The magic of their “Neverland” (Avalon) changes the children, and, guided by Peter, they are violent and bloodthirsty. And Peter has plenty of his own darkness– he collects the children not out of any concern for them, but because he needs soldiers for his army to protect The Lady and they are the easiest for him to turn to his side. And if any of them start to get too old, or if there are too many of them, he simply… “thins them out.”
The book is told through the lens of Nick, a 14-year-old boy whom Peter steals away after his mother gets into trouble with some drug dealers. Nick is not quite like the other children, seeing somewhat more clearly just what Peter is. Still, he plays along with the children, the Devils, since Peter doesn’t really let any of his soldiers go except in death. Nick learns more about Avalon and the creatures there, Peter and his darkness, and the Pilgrims (this book’s version of the pirates) who had accidentally landed on Avalon and now cannot leave. Through Nick we see all of the violence and the callousness of both worlds, the real world and Avalon.
I’m not the biggest fan of dark retellings, but I do sometimes enjoy them. This was one that I didn’t really enjoy. It’s hard to care about characters when they are all terrible people, and not caring about the characters makes it hard to care about what happens to them. The melding of the Peter Pan story with Arthurian legend is an interesting idea, but I never really bought into the world because it was so grim and violent. I didn’t really want to be swept away into the imagining.
I do think the book makes some interesting comments on human nature, though. The way that the kids Peter steals buy into his words so quickly and so readily… the way they rationalize and justify their actions, even the really horrible ones… They’re things that you see in people who are too desperate for escape that they don’t consider where that escape is coming from, and they’re also things you see in gang culture. Unfortunately, they’re also things I hate about human nature, so I spent a lot of time recognizing them and being annoyed and angry.
This book wasn’t my cup of tea, but people who like dark, gritty retellings of stories may enjoy it more.
Lots of violence and child abuse. It is a very dark story.