Once upon a time there was a boy named Peter, who never grew up. He lived in the magical world of Neverland, where children could do whatever they wanted and there were no grown-ups to take away their fun or remind them of their worldly responsibilities.
Oh, Peter Pan. You were such a wonderful book/film for me when I was growing up. Admittedly I only read the book once in primary school, but the general gist of the story is still the same.
So what happens when an award-winning fantasy artist decides to take the Peter Pan story, and throw in a metric tonne of despair, darkness, and misery? You get The Child Thief, in which Peter is portrayed as a human-fairy hybrid, luring abused children to Neverland so he can create an army to combat the various dark forces seeking to take away its magic.
Yeesh, Brom. You had me sold right there. Though thinking back on it, isn’t Peter Pan quite a creepy story by today’s standards? You’ve got an extremely childish teenage boy in a pair of tights cheerfully whisking children off to an island that has its fair share of danger, under the guise of being allowed total freedom to have fun there. And it’s not as if you can get back from Neverland easily! You have find some pixie dust to make you able to fly, spot a specific star in a specific direction, and then hope you can fly on ’til morning.
So of course, I went into this novel expecting some very dark undertones. For the most part, I was satisfied, but I do have a few complaints.
1. I had to reread several pages because I couldn’t get the gist of a conversation, who was speaking, what had happened, etcetera. This is mainly because most of the characters don’t really seem to have their own voices.
2. Also, the swearing was a big issue for me. No, no, I’m not a prude. I myself swear like a sailor if something goes wrong. However, if myself and Nick were to, say, stub our toes at exactly the same times, our reactions would be completely different.
Me: Oh fuck! That hurt.
Nick: FUCK!!! Why the fuck was that goddamn fucking wall there? Fuck fuck fuck fuckballs fuck fuck I’m such a damn fucktard!!!
Yeah, you can duplicate Nick’s reaction with most of the other teenage characters in this book. I understand that many of these characters have lived through some pretty horrible things. But soon enough it turns into a contest of who can swear the most or who can be the rudest or toughest to impress out of all of them. Sigh.
However, the main character of the story is Peter himself, and he’s a pretty fascinating character. Well, he should be. He’s half-fairy, extremely immature (the guy sees a group of gangsta wannabes with their pants pulled down past their bums, and assume they’re playing a game to see whose pants will fall down first), and quite malicious and ruthless. Once a kid has given his consent to go to Neverland, they’re stuck. Peter always avoids the question when one of the would-be Devils asks him how to get home. (Interestingly enough, Brom gives a reason for this in the author’s notes at the back of my edition – Peter is just as playful yet malicious in the original novel.)
From there on in, we’re introduced to the misty, magical island of Avalon, which separated from Great Britain centuries ago and is now located somewhere around the eastern coast of North America. Of course, something else travelled from the British Isles to North America a few years later… Pilgrims.
Thanks to the mist surrounding this mystical isle, the deeply Puritanical Pilgrims have been unable to get back, and relations with the Pagan natives of Avalon broke down horribly. So, like all invaders (the magic of the island rendering them hideously mutated by their own cruelty), the pilgrims launch sporadic attacks on the natives’ religious sites over the centuries. Hence why Peter recruits all these modern day street urchins and abused children, to train as Devils in a valiant effort to protect the Lady of the Lake, the goddess of the isle, and the one person who ever showed Peter kindness.
So, basically, the plot of the book centres around a war between Christians and Pagan natives. The Christians are led by the tyrannical Captain and his Reverend, who view anything remotely magical as being to do with the devil and his followers, and are naturally on a crusade of righteousness, whilst the natives are just trying to protect themselves.
Sadly, this aspect of the novel left me really cold. I really can’t put my finger on it, but I was really into the novel whenever Peter was around to wreak havoc and help kids rediscover their inner child, as destructive and rambunctious as they might be. All the politics and betrayals at the magical court (i.e., Ulfger and the like) just didn’t grab my interest as much. As fascinating as mythology is, I couldn’t help but feel the whole novel could have been trimmed just a little bit. I am loath to say this, but there were parts in which I was actually really bored.
It’s a shame, really, because I really love this dark and horrific take on Peter Pan. The setting is great, Brom’s artwork is beautiful, and Peter Pan himself has been wonderfully re-imagined. It’s just a shame a few of the teenage characters feel very trite, and parts of it to do with the deeper mythology of the isle of Avalon seemed to drag on, as if Brom got a bit too engrossed in his story world for a few moments. 3.5/5.