I realize that I’ve kind of been on a contemporary fantasy kick this month, so I figured I’d switch things up by doing another contemporary fantasy review.
In all seriousness, I’ll take a break from the contemporary fantasy after this one. Probably.
It’s not like you can stop me if I choose not to. Pardon me while I let all this power go to my head.
BACK TO THE CHILD THIEF!
The child thief is Brom’s contemporary take on Peter Pan, coupled with a healthy dose of celtic mythology. It’s not-too-dissimilar (in a good way) from Clive Barker’s The thief of always (the subject of a future post. Probably).
Peter Pan is the titular child thief, who travels between the human world and Avalon, kidnapping abused children to use as cannon fodder in a never-ending war against Captain Hook. It’s a dark fairy tale without clear heroes and villains.
How be the goodness?
It’s really intriguing. I was familiar with Brom as an artist, and was totally skeptical about his writing abilities. Still, the cover art and the promise of pretty pictures convinced me that I should check it out and see how it was. I was pleasantly surprised, as Brom manages to create a convincing tale of surprising moral complexity.
At first glance, it seems like The child thief is going to be a hero-becomes-the-villain type story, where Peter Pan is the abductor who steals children to lead them to their deaths in a war they don’t understand. The story would have still been interesting if that’s all that was going on, but it’s not.
Both sides in the war over Avalon are monstrous, and both are sympathetic. Peter’s service to the Lady of the Lake is an attempt to protect the land from the pirates who seek to destroy it. On the other side, Captain Hook and the pirates are trapped in Avalon and are just trying to find their way home. Both sides have also committed atrocities and don’t shy away from committing more. The strength of the novel is that both sides are relatable without reducing the horror of the situation or trivializing the crimes they commit.
Like all good fairy tales, The child thief deals with serious, real-life issues. It confronts issues of child abuse head-on, and it’s likely to make many readers uncomfortable as a result. That being said, I keep seeing people claiming that this book is NOT FOR CHILDREN. I don’t buy it. Yeah, it’s violent and there’s some profanity. Lots of children experience these things in their daily lives as it is, and fiction creates a good opportunity to come to terms with these issues in a structured way. Especially since with books, the reader has ultimate control over the experience. With a book, unlike real life, it’s totally possible to put the book down and walk away.
Honestly, The child thief would be a great vehicle for establishing a serious parent-child dialogue on these issues. Parenting is supposed to be about helping prepare your child to face the world as it is. By the time a child is old enough to read and fully comprehend what is going on in The child thief, they’re old enough to take part in a discussion about the issues it presents.
Parents: if you have concerns about a book your child is interested in reading, the best thing you can do is read that book with them. Encourage them to come to you if they have questions or something makes them uncomfortable. It’s a good starting point for a conversation. It’s also a good way to make your children comfortable with coming to you with difficult questions. Just react calmly and compassionately.
Former coworkers: Please stop telling parents that the books their children are checking out are inappropriate.*
Surprising moral complexity
Dark but still whimsical
The second half is considerably weaker than the first
I’ve recommended The child thief several times, to a fairly wide variety of people. They’ve pretty much all enjoyed it, though some have found it a little intense for their taste.
For some reason, it appeals to readers that don’t normally read contemporary fantasy. Fans of Wicked and similar books might like it (although I haven’t read Wicked so I can’t really say that for sure).
Fans of Stephen King should definitely check this out, it’s practically a guaranteed hit there.
Other good books:
The thief of always / Clive Barker
*True Confession: I did once tell a parent not to check out a book their child was interested in. That book was Gene Wolfe’s The book of the new sun. It’s a great book, and while the subject matter is somewhat “adult” that’s not why I recommended against it. I recommended against it because, given the other books they were checking out, that child would have found the book incredibly boring, not to mention nonsensical considering the amount of Latin therein.