The prologue to artist Brom‘s novel The Child Thief begins with a girl who is afraid of an abusive stepfather, which leads into the appearance of Peter Pan, who has come to “save” this child from the certain doom she faced at the hands of the malevolent step-parent. But in Brom’s world, things are not as clear cut as they seem. When people grow up, they often start to see the odd perversity in the idea that a teenage boy who is perpetually young can bring little boys to an island with no grown-ups (and seemingly no problems), which ties into the whole Michael Jackson and Neverland Ranch issues. But in this version of the tale, Peter Pan is about as similar to his Disney incarnation as Robin Williams is to Justin Bieber.
Although the Peter Pan in this book saves a girl from rape in the first scene, the reader will get the feeling right away that Peter’s not going to be as benevolent or silly as his Disney version. Instead of liberating these troubled youths, he steals the lost children (sad ones filled with despair and devoid of hope) and takes them back to Avalon (yes, that Avalon of Arthurian legends).
For the most part, the dialogue was fine, but in the first half of the book, some of the exchanges between teens felt forced. No self-respecting teenage boy would ever compare himself to Steven Seagal (at least not the current Steven Seagal) or Jake the Snake, a retired WWE professional wrestler. Peter’s dialogue on the other hand is hilarious because it’s in Disney speak but he adds things like “ball-sack” and “cocksucker.”
The novel is urban fantasy at its finest and in the traditional sense — a work that even Neil Gaiman would be jealous of. Peter comes off as just plain creepy at first, but as the novel progresses, Brom reveals more intricacies and subtleties to the character that make him more interesting. Avalon, although the same place mentioned in Arthurian tales, is a wasteland of children’s corpses and a force called the Mist, which consumes everything. The spirits of the dead invade this place and they try to kill all new arrivals. Survival is next to impossible, and this proves no different for Peter’s latest acquisition, a boy named Nick. It turns out that Peter himself is trying to survive the island and seems to be its prisoner. He uses children to feed the forces that rule Avalon in the hopes that they’ll free him from his tie to the land. But Nick does something that none before him have done — he survives.
There’s still a Captain Hook, however, and he wants to annihilate Peter, although the captain wasn’t as strong a character in this revisionist retelling. Although this Peter is much darker, Brom does a good job of establishing sympathy for him via several alterations in the narrative timeline that allow him to go back to Peter’s childhood. The children who live in Avalon — The Lost Boys — make the kids from Lord of the Flies look docile by comparison. Although there are some info-dumpy sections in the book, the narrative is interesting for the most part. The Lost Boys (and some girls) are now a clan called Devils who fight creatures called flesh-eaters, the men in Avalon who the Mist has turned into cannibalistic killing machines.
There’s a full color section of Brom’s drawings of the characters, which is very cool, although the Troll looks like a minotaur. In the end, the expected conclusion arrives, but it’s a satisfying read for fans who always found themselves wishing for a darker, grittier, and more twisted version of the Peter Pan story. Those who enjoy Celtic mythology, fae legends, and Arthurian tales will also highly enjoy the book, which is the trade paperback reprint of the hardcover originally published in 2009.