Review. Brom, The Child Thief

The Child Thief is a retelling of Peter Pan, originally by J.M. Barrie. In the author’s note, Brom mentions that in the original tale of Peter Pan, Barrie lets Peter thin out the Lost Boys when they’re too much grown up or just don’t fit anymore with the Boys. He thins them out, as in killing them? This little piece of knowledge really taints the vision you have of Peter as the happy and playful Disney character. That morbid side of him was used by Brom in his retelling of the story and frankly, retelling isn’t really apt to use here. This isn’t a mere retelling, but rather a completely new story to me with some of the characters from the original tale. This clearly coming from someone who has yet to read Peter Pan. Shame on me.

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?
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 book starts of with Peter taking a girl away from her abusive step-father and leading her to Avalon, a land without grownups. The land, however, is dying and Peter needs his army of Lost Children to drive the evil Flesh Eaters out of Avalon in order to save it. Immediately after the prologue, we get to know Nick. He is a troubled boy who got caught in a drugs-affair and is desperately trying to find his way out of misery. After some struggles, he is another of the children Peter takes with him and soon after, we find ourselves in Avalon.
First off, let me start by saying that I really liked this take on the story of Peter. I thought the plot was really imaginative and instead of rehashing Neverland, you get a refreshing tale in a disturbing world. However, I did feel that the book took quite a long time to get things going. Partly, this is because the book is full of backstory. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the story of how Peter became and how he got in Avalon was really interesting, as was his history with Jenny and Ulfger, but I thought these parts of the book took a bit too long. They dragged a bit and took the pace out of the story as a result. They were necessary to understand what was going on today, but I guess the length of these pieces didn’t sit really well with me.
she’s a bit misty up there
When things finally get going, I was really invested. I thought the whole part in the village of the Flesh Eaters was disturbingly good and The Reverend was just creepy, as were his doings. The ending, however, was a bit unsettling to me. It’s not that I didn’t like it per se, but there was something off about it and I can’t really pinpoint why that is. It’s an ending not many readers will expect to happen I guess, which is a good thing, but at the same time, it’s not really the ending I wanted. Fitting, yes, but for me not completely satisfying. This is a big book and I invested a lot of time in it, and for some reason this ending didn’t make me feel like the time spent was worth my wile.
Whereas I thought the plot was very good, I had a big problem with the characters. See, for me to like a book, I don’t necessarily have to be able to relate to the characters, but there have to be at least one whom I find likeable. It’s really hard for me to read a book where I don’t find any character likeable. It’s like hanging out with people you can’t stand. This was my experience here, I didn’t like any character, at all. I had hoped to like at least Peter but he turned out to be the worst of all. I knew beforehand that I shouldn’t expect the sweet Disney Peter, but this one is just a douchebag, and a cruel one at that. Peter is a sociopath who doesn’t really care that his Devils get killed and he finds pleasure in murdering people. Really, the very last lines of this book make it perfectly clear that Peter is severely troubled, messed up and whatnot, and that makes him so hard to like.
all a bit wicked or just plain evil
The Lost Children aren’t as bad, but I felt like I never really got to know them. Those who I did like a bit died halfway through the book. Are you kidding me? Nick also fits in the ‘meh’-category. He was okay for quite a big part of the book, but afterwards he just got annoying. The one exception here is Leroy. He’s one to hate with a passion. Near the end, his story gets told, but it didn’t redeem him in my eyes. I kept passionately hoping he would meet his end sooner rather than late. Everyone else living in Avalon is also hard to like. They are colourful and interesting, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t make them likeable. They are all a bit wicked or just plain evil with the exception of The Lady, but she’s a bit misty up there so she’s not much of a help either way. I do want to point out that, even though I didn’t like the characters, that doesn’t mean that I thought they weren’t good. Cause in fact, I thought they were very good in their wicked ways.
The writing, though, is without a doubt good. The story wasn’t fast-paced, but Brom created a deliciously dark atmosphere where these shady characters thrive.

In retrospect, this wasn’t what I was expecting when I picked up the book. Disney’s Peter Pan made me believe that this book would be sweet with a twist, but it is all but sweet. Rather only twisted and the characters didn’t help me overcome my initial shock. It’s just like I mentioned before, I felt like hanging out with people I couldn’t stand and it really affected my reading experience. If there were one or two characters I genuinely liked, I would have liked this book way more as a whole. I count myself lucky that Peter Pan never really was my childhood hero, or this would have been a traumatic experience. Now, it was a shocking retelling that I probably will revisit sometime. Going in prepared and all that.

★ ★ ★

Second star on the right, Neverland. I mean, Avalon?

Also very nice but no gamechanger in terms of how much I liked the plot, were the s.t.u.n.n.i.n.g. drawings by Brom. Drawings is shortselling it, they were gorgeous and eerie, and …

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