This book is CRAZY. Based (loosely) on the story of Peter Pan, this novel written and illustrated by Brom is insane, dark, and a little bit terrifying.
A word to the wise: do not read this if you have a weak stomach. Brom is really fond of violence and gore. I wished that he’d toned it down a bit, but it really wouldn’t have been the same story without it. The Child Thief is the story of Peter and his quest to save his home. In this tale, which takes place in the mythical land of Avalon, rather than in Neverland, Peter cannot fly. He is lightning quick, having been suffused over his lifetime with the magic of Avalon. But Avalon is threatened by a race of creatures called Flesh-eaters–beings that used to be human, but whose evil, cruel nature, combined with Avalon’s magical air, has warped them to reflect the demons they are inside. Peter recruits children from the human world, taking in the runaways, homeless, and unwanted youth and turning them into his own private army to save Avalon.
I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages because the blurb on the jacket made me incredibly curious. The book was awesome, but not in the way I was expecting. The beginning dragged for me a bit, but a little way into it the story picks up and it’s nearly impossible to put down. Brom’s prose is engaging but nothing special; at times it feels a little youthful and inexperienced. Perhaps it was simply his subject, as most of his characters are under 12 years old. And Peter…
Peter takes some getting used to. He isn’t the boy we know and love from popular culture. Brom includes an afterword that gives some idea of what inspired him, including a bit about a more violent, much darker story that was the precursor to the Peter Pan story that is common today. The first glaring difference is that Peter cannot fly. He is grounded, and though he is extremely quick, both on his feet and with a blade, he is still subject to the same weakness as his band of Devils. Though Disney has much altered the way most people think of Peter, in the book he is actually rather selfish. In this respect, Brom has Peter pinned. This Peter is extremely egocentric and self-serving. His sole purpose for living and striving to save Avalon is to save the Lady, or the queen of Avalon. He is smitten with her, seemingly both as a mother figure and as an object of lust (odd), and over the centuries has sent hundreds of his Devils to their deaths for the sake of one woman. Granted, if she dies, all of Avalon dies as well, so it’s a valid goal. But his single-mindedness is the cause of death and destruction for the children he tricks into Avalon. The reader has a difficult time deciding to love or to hate him. At times he seems a worthy leader, and at others reveals himself as the selfish child he truly is. Despite this, he inspires incredible loyalty in his band of Devils, for having saved them from their tragic lives in the human realm and for giving them a purpose.
The plot is drawn-out and complicated, but incredibly worth reading to the end. Events escalate quickly, and the final battle for Avalon between the Devils–aided by the magical creatures of Avalon–and the Flesh-eaters takes a turn no one would expect. All the while, Peter must also protect himself and his Devils from a man with a burning hatred for Peter–a man who, though of Avalon, would bring his own world down around his ears to destroy Peter. Brom takes the conflict much farther than the reader would expect, diminishing almost all hope in the reader for a happy ending. Rather than there being one plot twist, there are several, and the reader cannot help but devour the book, desperate to know what happens and with a wretched desire for things to somehow end well for Avalon, Peter, and the Devils.
Parts of the novel made me grimace in disgust, but for the most part it was a wickedly delightful novel. Brim-full of magic and suspense, it’s nearly 500 pages of gripping intensity that sucks its reader in and leaves them reeling with wonder. And Brom’s illustrations only add to the delight of reading it. I highly recommend it to fans of both horror and fantasy, for it is an expert blending of both genres.