When reading the original text of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Brom found it more sinister than he had always found it represented in popular culture. When several lines stuck in his mind, provoking dark questions about the boy who never grows up, The Child Thief was born. But as Brom states in an afterword addressing his inspiration, he works to create his own version of Peter as a character as well as an intricate world inspired largely by Celtic mythology. His artwork provides the final touch on this amazingly intricate and engaging reimagining of Peter Pan.
Brom eases the reader into the world of Avalon as he has created it, beginning instead with the more familiar image of Peter luring children to follow him, though even these early scenes show that this will not be a story for very young children. Sharing much of the novel’s spotlight is Nick, a teenage boy who is having trouble at home in the wake of his father’s death as his mother struggles to care for him and his grandmother. Tormented by the shady characters renting rooms in their house (and dealing drugs), Peter shows up just in time to save Nick’s hide and urges the teen to follow him through the mist to a hidden magical land. But once there, the politics and feuds of the various races begin to come to light and Nick fights to maintain his skepticism in the face of Peter’s charm and allure.
The novel is set mostly on the island of Avalon, a land where magic makes time move differently. The magic is fading as the Flesh-eaters ravage the land and threaten the lives everyone on the island from the Lady of the Lake whose mist protects Avalon from further invasion to the pixies that harass the lost boys and girls that make up Peter’s fighting force of Devils. Peter’s perspective is the constant through the novel but there are plenty of other characters’ points of view for balance. In addition to Nick’s skepticism and resistance, some of the enemies Peter has made over the centuries are also represented. The Captain proves more sympathetic than expected, at least when compared to some of the Flesh-eaters he leads into battle and those left behind in their fort.
At times, The Child Thief displays elements reminiscent of Lord of the Flies and American Gods, while relying on Arthurian legend in addition to Peter Pan and the Celtic mythology to which so much of the novel is rooted. But while it’s possible to pull out and identify various influences, The Child Thief stands out as indelibly its own story. The level of care and organization put into the plotting and pacing is as evident as the detail in the paintings and sketches that serve as illustrations throughout the novel (many of which can be seen in even greater detail on Brom’s website). Be warned: Brom is not afraid to go dark; the confrontations are frequent, violent, and graphic, not for those who find themselves easily disturbed by vivid descriptions of carnage (luckily, I fall in the camp of those who have a higher tolerance for reading such scenes than watching them unfold on a screen). For anyone on the borderline, I would suggest trying it. The themes at the heart of the violence are hardly limited to the realm of fantasy and are well worth exploring.