BOOK REVIEW – The Child Thief by BromThe Child Thief by Brom
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Synopsis:

Peter is quick, daring, and full of mischief—and like all boys, he loves to play, though his games often end in blood. His eyes are sparkling gold, and when he graces you with his smile you are his friend for life, but his promised land is not Neverland.

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?

There is always more to 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.

This retelling brilliantly succeeds in going to the very core of what gives this heartbreaking feeling to Peter Pan : The raw loneliness of the Lost Boys, and the ambiguity of Peter Pan : a hero, you think? Really?

There’s no such thing as a hero in this book, and it was fantastic. What is it with anti-hero that captivates me so much?

“The thief saw the fear, the confusion, and he smiled.
What had led this child here : abuse, neglect, molestation? All of the above perhaps? It really didn’t matter to the thief.”

Indeed in my opinion – and I’m weighing my words here – Brom’s Peter is the most interesting and above that, realistic Peter Pan whom I had the pleasure of meeting. Selfish. Delusional. Reckless. Driven. Deadly. So, so lonely. In a word, it seems impossible to describe him since his layers are so hard to unravel. Oh, man, how he is fleshed-out! So, what did I think? I thought he was fascinating, and despite his flaws, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him, even if damn, how he’s begging for it sometimes! I resented him, yes, but hated him? I couldn’t. How to hate him when we know what he went through? How not to be moved by the heart-wrenching flashbacks in his childhood, full of betrayals and loneliness? When he’s rejected on all sides? Actually I’m pretty sure that we’re not meant to love Peter, who is lost in all his contradictions, who loves his island and his Devils fiercely but who doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice them. Frankly, Peter shares many traits with sociopaths, as his aims justify any means in his head – I cared about him anyway.

And then, there’re the Lost Boys, some crazy, some brave, some cowards, all loyal to death to Peter. Everyone but Nick. Oh, Nick. How full of heartbreak your story is! He is the second main character besides Peter, and as it is, we get to follow his first weeks – months? – after Peter brought him in the Island. Nick isn’t like the other Lost Boys. Nick doubts. Nick complains. Nick questions. Now, how could we not understand it? The guy’s just been deceived into coming there under false pretends for crying out loud!

“Ask them their story. Peter finds the lost, the left-behind, the abused. Is that not why you are here? Did Peter not save you?”
“Peter tricked me.”

As usual, a book which manages to make me care deeply about the characters is a win. These characters? They made my heartbeat increase, I was frightened, mad for them. I even cried, for Pete’s sake! In a word, they never, ever left me indifferent.

“Men who fear demons see demons everywhere.”

Danger is everywhere in Avalon. From the horrible creatures to the Witch and her cringe-worthy (but somehow hilarious) daughters, not to mention the sluaghs who took hold of the Mists, Peter and his Devils must always stay on the defensive, because every path can lead to death.

“It didn’t make it okay. It didn’t make the hurt any less painful later, but it got him through. And right now he just needed to get through. “

God it was frightening at times – like, cringe-worthy frightening. Brom succeeded in bringing to life so many magical beings from Scottish fairy stories and other folklores that I couldn’t help but feel both horrified and enchanted.

Avalon is dying, suffering from the curse that the Flesh-eaters brought with them. Remember The Captain? Well, don’t expect pirates here, but bloodthirsty creatures whose goal is to chase all of the life out of the Island they call their home. Or are they, really? Nothing is never as simple as it seems. Avalon is dying, and Peter must save it. Will he be able to find allies in the Elves and other trolls who inhabit the island? How far will he go to fulfill what he considers as his mission? As I said, there’s no hero here. No right choice. But war. War and its sacrifices.

But don’t forget : there’s two sides to every story, and nothing is Manichean in The Child Thief. NOTHING. I found this wonderful.

Let me tell you something : this book was dark, so dark. That’s why it seems important to point that it is not a children book, far from it. Indeed we come across many disturbing scenes. There is religious fanaticism. There is child abuse. There is violence. There is torture. I couldn’t breathe.

Once again, as painful as it was at times, the darkness oozing from the book offers us a more realistic tale in my opinion. Avalon isn’t a place where we go to live adventures, no. Avalon is a place where we go when we’re so hurting from our life that we can’t make any other decision. Life is unfair, you know. And I hurt for them.

To sum up, here’s an outstanding dark retelling whose writing, beautiful and awe-inspiring, serves the story admirably. Obviously I loved it – hence my 5 stars rating – but if I had to point something that could bother some readers, it would be the pacing. Indeed although I was never bored, I can’t deny that I felt the need to stop several times. Remember the feeling we get when we’re forced to pause a book and that it loosens the tension? Well, here, the opposite happens. I needed to stop to keep the tension, and wasn’t able to read it in one sitting, or two, for that matter. Now, if you’re used to fantasy, or want to try it, I’d say go for it, because in the end, following these characters is an incredible experience you won’t soon forget.

PS. Just look at the art – Isn’t it wonderful?

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