“If you don't learn to laugh at life it'll surely kill you, that I know.”
The most curious question is, how could I have not heard about this book before it was announced as a group read? Apparently it's well liked, artful, tastefully twisted, a modern day play on the old lore of Peter Pan (which I already find fascinating). It's almost a criminal shame this hadn't hit my radar until recently.
It's clear to see from the blurb and diving into the first chapter that this is not a childlike, glorified version of Peter Pan, some fun recapturing of youth for the grownup folks. The author explains in the afterword the inspiration of this telling, that unspoken suggestions in the original tale gave him pause and morbid inspiration. This was especially true when he mentally finished the lines Pan spoke in the original fairy tale, that once kids reached a certain age he didn't 'keep them anymore.' What did this mean, the author wondered? Since they couldn't return home, what happened to the boys when they aged? He wondered if Peter actually killed them or something else bizarre, and an idea was born for this story.
This definitely isn't just a retelling and re-imagining of the fairy tale - it only takes bare inspiration and the original heart of the story, but gives it entirely new life. There's a complicated world invented that makes Neverland seem tiny, an expansion of the politics that wage wars in the land and with its various peoples. A queen, betrayers, enemies among families, witches, and of course Peter and 'lost children.'
Immediately I was sucked into the beginning. Finding children in the middle of their reality hells, then convincing them to follow their savior into the fog and new land? The opening was a girl with a sadistic father. You couldn't help but cheer Peter on as he wreaked vengeance and had a mischievous mind. Fascinating lead ups to the actual land they're going to. And that dark walk...creepy. It reminded me of the dark bridge in Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. They were quite similar, for if you paid attention to sounds and things that touched you in the darkness, you could be lost forever in the dark and with whatever was out there waiting.
Peter is no villain, but neither is he a hero. There does exist a certain type of hero, but he is not in black or white. The obsessing with 'the Lady' shows that Peter himself falls prey to the same thing that draws in and consoles children everywhere, the yearning to be loved by another and felt to be the center of their world. All the children stand on their own feet as unique beacons of intriguing characterization. Adults are shown to be feared for good reason, but for the children it can be said the same.
Captain Hook gets a makeover also, absorbed into a town of demented, puritanical paranoia where the wand of evil is waved by the detestable Reverend. Creepy guy!
Brom's writing style comes across beautifully seductive. I can still hear the three demented sisters singing and picture the hidden world hiding and waiting over the water.
The Child Thief brings us back a beloved fairy tale but not only transforms it for an adult audience, it digs deeper into the original wording and symbolism. Brom's artwork suits it, deepening the depth of a story which was already buried beneath mounds of flourishing creativity . I can't recommend the story highly enough for fans of dark fantasy.
“Don't let them win. Don't let them beat you. Don't let them steal your magic.”
“Children like yourselves are full of magic, but the men have turned, they've lost their magic to the fear and hatred they harbor for all that they can't explain, control, or understand.”