Published by Eos on August 17th 2010
Genres: Retelling, Fantasy, Horror
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Peter is quick, daring, and full of mischief—and like all boys, he loves to play, though his games often end in blood. His eyes are sparkling gold, and when he graces you with his smile you are his friend for life, but his promised land is not Neverland.
Fourteen-year-old Nick would have been murdered by the drug dealers preying on his family had Peter not saved him. Now the irresistibly charismatic wild boy wants Nick to follow him to a secret place of great adventure, where magic is alive and you never grow old. Even though he is wary of Peter’s crazy talk of faeries and monsters, Nick agrees. After all, New York City is no longer safe for him, and what more could he possibly lose?
There is always more to lose.
Accompanying Peter to a gray and ravished island that was once a lush, enchanted paradise, Nick finds himself unwittingly recruited for a war that has raged for centuries—one where he must learn to fight or die among the “Devils,” Peter’s savage tribe of lost and stolen children.
There, Peter’s dark past is revealed: left to wolves as an infant, despised and hunted, Peter moves restlessly between the worlds of faerie and man. The Child Thief is a leader of bloodthirsty children, a brave friend, and a creature driven to do whatever he must to stop the “Flesh-eaters” and save the last, wild magic in this dying land.
“The darkness is calling. A little danger, a little risk. Feel your heart race. Listen to it. That’s the sound of being alive. It’s your time, Nick. Your one chance to have fun before it’s all stolen by them, the adults, with their cruelty and endless rules, their can’t-do-this, and can’t-do-that’s, their have-tos, and better-dos, their little boxes and cages all designed to break your spirit, to kill your magic.”
I loved it. I loved it. I loved it. I seriously struggled writing this review because every time I think of this book I become a gushing, ineloquent mess. This book reminded me of what it means to be a total fangirl.
I know that no book is ever perfect. But in my opinion, The Child Thief comes pretty close. Brom hasn’t just written a novel, he has created a masterpiece.
You know that feeling when you read a book and you feel like it was written just for you? Tailor-made? That was how I felt while reading this Peter Pan retelling.
Why, you ask? Well, this book has…
– An antihero. In case you don’t know, there is NOTHING I love quite as much as a realistic, consistent antihero.
– A kick-ass female character. Brom’s version of Tiger Lily, loved her.
– A complex, well-developed fantasy world.
– An infusion of all kinds of different mythology, folklore and fairy tales. From Celtic mythology and Arthurian legend all the way to pagan myths. Is there anything better?
– An eclectic cast of characters who are flawed and complex. All intriguing in their own right.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s try to break this down (even though my words will never be able to make this book justice).
Peter Pan is one of my favorite classics and there is so much potential for Peter Pan retellings to be incredible because they offer so much room for originality, creativity and imagination. Still, I was hesitant, having read Tiger Lily earlier this year, I wasn’t sure if any retelling could ever compare. And really, the two don’t compare. They couldn’t be more different from one another.
This book is so strange and peculiar yet manages to instill in the reader a sense of realism that is awe-inspiring. I believed everything. Nothing felt constructed or contrived, the whole story made so much sense once I could see the whole picture. The plot development felt organic. It was tragic and heartbreaking but also filled with action and suspense.
In this version of the Peter Pan story, Peter is portrayed as a seducer: he preys on the abused, mistreated, enslaved. He seeks out children who fit these categories – the children who themselves believe they have nothing left to lose – and essentially promises them a better life, a life in Avalon, a mysterious magical island where faeries and monsters are routine. Fourteen-year-old Nick is one of those boys and he follows Peter through the Mist. Nick quickly realizes however, that things aren’t the way he hoped them to be.
The Child Thief is a very dark book. From the first couple of sentences you can gather that this is not a book for children, or even young adults. It is often disturbing and violent, the writing is gory and the whole novel screams sadness, pain, fury, loss and guilt. It contains many heavy issues such as child abuse, rape and torture and although it’s not about those things, they play a significant role in the story. Generally, I feel pretty neutral about books that are excessively gory and violent; it doesn’t bother me but I also won’t seek them out actively. More often than not, I found that authors use these descriptions to replace plot and worldbuilding, which makes me feel like they are only trying to appall or disgust me instead of telling me a story. This isn’t the case here: Brom uses bloody and horrifying passages where they serve the story, where they enhance, where they add realism. Never did the descriptions overpower the plot.
The writing itself is hauntingly beautiful. Poetic where it needed to be, simple where it should have been. Easy to read yet reminiscent of the original Peter Pan. Perfectly suited to the story being told.
Then there is the issue of pacing. The Child Thief is quite a lengthy novel and yet I wasn’t bored a single second. This book did not drag. Ever. I was at the edge of my seat the entire time and sometimes I even had to put the book down because I was getting so excited I actually had trouble breathing, something that barely ever happens. After finishing it I felt drained and physically exhausted, as if I’d been the one to go through all these events.
The worldbuilding was amazing. Avalon was a fascinating and well-constructed place but what I loved even more was the relation between Avalon and the “real” world. It was so interesting to see how the magic worked and how different people reacted to it; the internal logic was fantastic.
Best of all were the characters. Brom managed the elusive feat of creating a cast of characters that were simultaneously unlikable and endearing. There is no hero and no villain. The characters are just people, real and genuine, and it worked perfectly. I loved almost all of them, and those I couldn’t love because they are just too despicable, I understood.
Peter himself was such a deliciously ambiguous character. Part hero, part monster, he is self-centered and delusional, sadistic and foolhardy. In fact, he borders on being a sociopath; stealing away children for his own gain and satisfaction without thought to what it might do to them. He doesn’t hesitate to use their own weaknesses against them.
Everything comes with a price. Everything. Some things just cost more than others.
And despite all his flaws, I couldn’t help but love him. Maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for antiheroes, but I found Peter to be an amazing character. The way Brom slowly presents his backstory to the reader greatly humanizes him and I felt so much empathy for this traumatized, lonely boy who was just trying to live the best life he knew how. A truly complex and layered character who will doubtlessly leave the reader intrigued.
We also have Nick, the second main character besides Peter. I was so fond of him. I admit, when Nick was first introduced I was a little worried because I was scared he’d fall prey to special snowflake syndrome. BUT Brom completely turned it around, making Nick into an incredibly realistic character I could totally root for. His bravery was admirable.
All the Devils were great. They were distinct and fleshed-out. None of them stupid; they made mistakes but not the kind that were just put in to help move the story along. These were real mistakes, understandable mistakes. It might be frustrating, but never annoying.
There were characters like Leroy, Ulfger and the Reverend that I despised with a fiery passion and yet…I could understand where they were coming from. This book seriously messed with my mind and made me question everyone.
“When I come to rule I will put an end to their debauchery. Faerie shall become a force to be feared. Ulfger, a name spoken in frightful whispers. We will make men-kind remember their place and will hide behind the Lady’s Mist no longer.”
So much complexity.
And then there are the themes. This book is just teeming with interesting philosophical questions about morality, life and death, and what it means to do the right thing. Brom comments on religious fanaticism and its consequences, colonialism, war and sacrifice. If there was ever a book that perfectly portrays the meaning behind “there are two sides to every story” The Child Thief is it.
Both sides so blinded by their fear and hate of each other that they couldn’t see they were all fighting for the same thing.
It’s also a book about loneliness and what neglect can do to us. I found it to be both extremely compelling and very meaningful.
When I thought the book couldn’t get any better, there were sentences like this:
I’m…I am a god!
Oh Brom, you were just trying to make my mouth water, weren’t you?
To sum up, I cannot praise this book highly enough. For obvious reasons it isn’t a book for everyone, but if you can handle darker topics, I suggest you pick this one up. A novel that is horrifying and enchanting, beautifully written and different from anything I’ve read.
A serious contender for my favorite book of the year.
P.S. I recommend getting the physical copy if you can. There are GORGEOUS illustrations by Brom himself that you don’t want to miss out on.