The Child Thief: A Novel

The Child Thief - Brom

The Child Thief

I never read Barrie’s original Peter Pan and I never managed to sit through one of the movie adaptations. I was doubtful whether the story might appeal to me at all, but I wanted to like Brom’s take on it so much. The first two pages of the prologue almost had me put the book aside. They were so very intense. I don’t have any qualms reading about chopped-off heads and spilt innards, but any description of or even hint at child abuse is just too horrifying for me.

I might not be the most attentive of readers and so didn’t catch whether the girl from the prologue made it through the Mist at all or whether she was the one they called Cricket.

So, Peter is some sort of half-fairy creature who is driven away by his mother’s family when they realise that he is uncannily far developed for a baby his age. He’s left alone in the woods to fend for himself or starve. Goll, a wood creature/moss man, takes pity on him, takes him in and teaches him to hunt and take care of himself, only to be brutally murdered when Peter’s curiosity about human children gives away his refuge to an angry and witless mob of grown-ups. Peter is on the run again and while fleeing from the angry humans without paying attention to where he is going, he comes across three young girls who lure him into Faerie, to Avalon, where they intend their mother to make dinner of him. Peter fights, takes the witch’s eye and has to flee again. This time he is rescued by some elves and the Lady of the Lake, Modron. Again, Peter gets into all kinds of trouble but manages to secure himself a place in Avalon by creating his private army of devils, a group of children he rescues (or kidnaps, depending on the perspective) from beyond the Mist, the real world. The children stop aging once they are in Avalon, so there’s an interesting mix of characters from different periods of history. However, not all the children Peter tries to bring to Avalon to join his group of devils make it through the Mist, which harbours all kinds of horrors, or prove valiant enough to actually join the ranks. Nick, a boy from New York, who has suffered abuse at the hands of some petty drug dealers his mother let a room to due to financial difficulties after the death of Nick’s father, is the latest addition to Peter’s army. There is a lot of tension as Nick tries to get to terms with his new surroundings and his own inner demons.

We learn about Peter’s past and about how alliances and enmities came to pass.

There will be a lot of fighting and dying before the conflict between the original inhabitants of Avalon, those of magical origin, and the group of pilgrims that got trapped in the Mist and that tries to burn the mythical forest down in order to please their Christian God and save their cursed souls, will come to a conclusion in modern days New York.

I could endlessly go on about how great this book is. There are so many layers of awesome. Brom’s characterisations are as fabulous as ever. But even those protagonists who are also mentioned in passing, whose characterisation is only perfunctory in some cases, stuck with me.

Description of grown-ups, page 56:

“As he waited, an odour permeated his nostrils, every bit as offensive as the sour rot of garbage. It was the musky smell of grown-ups: their sweat, their gastric utterances, their dandruff-ridden scalps, greasy pimple-pocked skin, wax-encrusted ears, hemorrhoid-infested rumps. He wrinkled his nose. It hadn’t changed since the day he was born – over fourteen hundred years ago.”

Description of the horrors waiting in the Mist, page 456:

“Then something weirder happened (his definition of weird was expanding by the second) that made him forget all about chemical agents. There was something in this mist, lots of somethings. He heard sound, strange, eerie echoes, like women weeping and children singing, caught sight of shadowy, eyeless children with pumpkin-size heads and deformed mouths that peeled back, exposing rows of prickly teeth, and crawling up behind them hunchbacked women with emaciated arms and legs, shrivelled flesh and black holes for eyes, there distended abdomens swollen and pulsing, giant stingers dripping black, viscous goop protruding from the tips of their sagging breasts. They extended their arms to him, smiling sweetly, inviting him to dance.”

The depictions of the reverend/preacher types seem to form a theme in Brom’s writing: religious zeal is dangerous and frightening.

I could go on an on about Ulfger, the ultimate madman, the Captain as the only sane person around, the roles of Danny, Redbone, Sekeu, Leroy (!), the fairies, the troll, the elves, etc. But I’m sure that I would make a poor job of it, so just read the book yourselves!