“I began to wonder what this children’s book would look like if the veil of Barre’s prose were peeled back, if the violence and savagery were presented in stark, grim reality. How would those children react to being kidnapped and thrust into such a situation? How hard would it be for them to fall under the spell of a charismatic sociopath, to shuck off the morality of civilization and become cold-blooded killers? Judging from what goes on in modern gang culture, and seeing how quick teens can be to define their own morals, to justify any action no matter how horrific, I believe it wouldn’t be that hard.

And these thoughts were the seeds for The Child Thief.”                                                                                                                                                                               -From Brom’s Author’s Note

Every so often I stumble across a book that just kicks ass. I’ve seen Brom’s books around, but was skeptical of an illustrator-turned-author. When I found The Child Thief at Barnes and Noble, I had to go to Amazon and Goodreads, and see how it was rated before I trusted the great prolog and bought the book. There’s a reason it has 4.5/5 stars on both Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a phenomenal book.

The Child Thief is a dark fantasy retelling of Peter Pan’s story. Here’s the cover copy. Kinda long, totally worth it. My two cents worth to follow:

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.

We get to see lots of different points of view…Peter, Nick, “The Captain” and another antagonist. Each character’s rationale for their (horrifically violent, sometimes selfish) actions are pleasingly rock solid. None of these characters perform for the author, for a pre-conceived plot. They act and react in very human ways…even though they’re not all human.

The fantasy world is well rendered, based on lots of research from fairy tales and old English, Scottish and Welsh legends. My favorite thing about the book, though? Its darkness made it unpredictable. Early on it was established that anything could happen, none of the characters were safe. In some books, you know the good guys are gonna win with minimal collateral damage. Those books can still be a pleasure to read…series books, for example. You’re not worried for the protagonist, it’s more about the execution. This one, though, the body count started racking up early on, characters were presented with tough choices. There were no easy answers. Brom is a fan of making the worst possible things happen, and forcing his cast to deal with it the best they can. A good lesson, for writers, in raising the stakes.

Because Brom started as an artist, I must also commend the illustrations: Each chapter gets a black and white drawing (it was the drawing of the barghest that sold me on the book…I’m a sucker for a really awesome monster) and there are also glossy color pictures in the middle of the book of many of the main characters—but not poor Nick. I guess because he’s “just” a human, he doesn’t get one.

About three quarters of the way through the book, Nick realizes an error he’s made. The gravity of his error flattens him, and with him, the reader. The book has so many fully realized, visceral moments—not in the superb action scenes, but in the characters hearts and minds. It’s a really powerful mix of emotion and dark, dark, dark fantasy. I’d argue for this book to have a place in a horror section.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a good read check out Brom’s The Child Thief. I’d go with a paper copy, or an e-reader platform that really lets you appreciate those drawings. So good! (Here’s a link to Brom’s webpage with some of the fantastic art from the book…though not my barghest picture!)