This is not your father’s Peter Pan. Brom happened to read the original Barrie work and found some rather un-Disney-like mayhem tucked into this supposedly children's novel. In The Child Thief
, he explores those darker regions. Mixing a stew of old-world mythologies, which he very nicely sources for us at the end of the book, Brom has created a very dark view of a childhood lost. What manner of creature is Peter? How did he become the way he is, violent, sociopathic, with some serious mother issues, yet supremely charismatic, deft, and fun? A history is offered.
One thing making the book a fun read is that it is a sort of Where’s Waldo of literary and mythological references. One battle might have been taken from C.S. Lewis, replete with diverse species joining forces. Our Virgil into this inferno is Nick, a Brooklyn kid beset by drug dealers who have taken over his single-mother’s home. Peter, on an ongoing mission to recruit fresh blood for this tale’s version of Lost Boys (and Girls), The Devils, is ever on the lookout for kids with no where else to turn. He saves Nick from deadly peril and leads him through the Mist to Avalon, a decaying former paradise, resonant with the many such darkening worlds in children's literature. A Wrinkle in Time
pops to mind, The NeverEnding Story
. The darkness here touches some contemporary issues, as the nasty flesh-eaters, degraded Puritans who were trapped in the Mist of Avalon centuries ago, have been dredging up oil from beneath the surface and using it to burn supposedly inflammable, sentient trees in an attempt to push back the magic folk and gain control of the place for their own, and in so doing obliterating the magic to be found in nature, as embodied by Peter and The Lady. Their evil leader is familiar, the completely irrational, sadistic Torquemada type.
Characters are not all so simplistic as the evil preacher. A Captain of the flesh-eaters (the local magic folk are decidedly vegetarian) turns out to be more than he appears. Nick struggles with his attraction to Avalon and the uber-mother, Lady of the Mist, while struggling to come to terms with his actions back in the real world.
There is considerable violence in this story, a body count that would be right at home in any contemporary video game (and yes, there is frequent mention of game-boys) and a chilling numbness on the part of most of the characters to the carnage. Arms, legs, and heads are chopped with enough frequency to carpet what remains of Avalon. It is a very male story, sort of a 300
for the pre-and-early-adolescent set. Far too much rah-rah-let’s-go-kill-some-flesh-eaters sort of speechifying. Can we zip up now and move along with the story?
There is a climactic big battle that I found a bit too much, even for this. But that is a quibble. Brom has wrought an interesting look at a classic character who has not seen much treatment of this sort before. Root questions are asked, and possible answers offered.
In addition, Brom has created beautiful black-and-white illustrations for the beginning of each chapter, and a set of full color paintings for the principal characters.