I enjoy retold tales. I think we all do. Think back to when you were a kid and you wanted the same story night after night after night. Those of you with kids know what happens when you try to rush a story by skipping a page. We crave the familiar. Folklore is full of motifs and we pick out those patterns that repeat in all the tales. Three brothers and the youngest wins, wicked stepmothers, witches in disguise, princes and princesses needing to get married, magic shoes and more.
Retelling other people’s tales it a bit more tricky. Get it right and you have Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. It doesn’t try to replace L. Frank Baum but it creates an entirely new tale. The second author has to be careful or they run the risk of seeming like a shameless hanger-on instead of a gifted author creating an homage to the original book. The truly gifted author will not only pen that homage, they will create something new and wonderful and fantastic that it doesn’t need to stand with the original book to work.
Brom does this with The Child Thief.
Growing up, my Peter Pan was the green clad flying elf boy presented to me by Disney. Wish hard enough and you can fly. Girls are jealous of other girls, even if one of them is a tiny fairy. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I read J.M. Barrie’s book and saw a very different story.
Brom is fascinated with Peter and began asking himself what kind of a boy, or elf, or sprite, or wood-creature, would slip into our world and spirit children away? And what happened to the extras? One sentence in particular sent his mind spinning and he created a very different Peter.
This Peter hunts. He finds children who desperately need a friend. He sniffs out terror and anger and pain and shows up when the need is great. And then he plays. A few twists of a blade and his game ends with blood and a child who follows him because they have nothing else in their life to hold on to. Peter brings them into his world, or at least tries to, and they become Devils.
The battle is coming. War must be fought. The Captain is waiting and Peter doesn’t have much time.
Nick gets caught up in Peter’s world. He’s backed himself into a corner trying to break free from the drug dealers that have moved into his home and he finds himself running through Central Park, praying to get out before he’s killed. Peter finds him and saves him and whisks him away. It seems like Nick’s prayers are answered, but the more he learns of Peter’s world and Peter himself, the more he questions what’s happening. The other children love and worship Peter, but Nick starts to wonder if anyone gets to leave.
He finds himself forced into the world of the Devils, but there’s something evil running through his blood. No one is telling the full truth, he doesn’t know what’s going on, Peter is the only one who can get him home, but Peter is gone.
This book is violent and angry and heartbreaking. Brom wonders where Peter came from and then creates a back story that is beautiful and painful and altogether new. Why does Peter really refuse to grow up? What are the lessons he learned as a baby and then later in the woods?
And the ending? Perfect. Brom stays true to his tale from the first word to the last period. There’s nothing more frustrating than an author who tries to force characters into doing something so the ending will be a certain way. Brom lets his characters do what they should do, not what someone might want them to do. Satisfying doesn’t begin to describe it.
On top of his fantastic writing, Brom is an amazing artist and the book has absolutely gorgeous drawings at the beginning of each chapter with bonus full color plates in the middle. The story on its own is a gift, but the added artwork makes it extraordinary. It’s almost unfair that Brom gets to be so talented at art and writing. But I forgive him because he shares his creations with us.
If you like dark writing, realistic YA and urban magic, get this. And pick up a copy of The Plucker while you’re at the store or the library for more of Brom’s work.