When I first saw a copy of The Child Thief at Borders book store, oh so long ago, I was intrigued. I was a fan of the Peter Pan movies when I was a kid, but had long lost my childish enthusiasm for the stories. Peter Pan, I think, is one of those things you grow up loving, but as you get older, perspectives begin to shift, and that's what The Child Thief is all about: a change of the Peter Pan perspective.
The story is about Peter, but everything about the classic tale has been given a new twist. Peter is a wild boy who steals children by becoming their best friends across the ages and takes them to Avalon (a shift from Neverland). There, he fights a constant war against Flesh Eaters, Pilgrims who entered Avalon when it shifted from Great Britain to the New World to escape the persecution of Christianity and their war against the devil and demons of the forests.
The story shifts in perspective between several different characters chapter to chapter, but sticks mostly between Peter, sharing his background and motivations, and a child named Nick from Brooklyn, New York, who escapes to Avalon to be free of the drug dealers living at his grandmothers place.
Peter has been revamped in the story, giving him a darker, twisted past. Aware from the moment of birth, Peter was mistaken for a changeling as he was able to speak from seven weeks old. His mother, convinced he was concieved by a forest spirit, is forced by the family to take him out into the woods to be killed. He is saved by an ogre, escapes to Avalon, and is made favorite by the Lady of the Lake. The story carries a lot of celtic themes, such as elves, the king Arthur myths, as well as numerous creatures from celtic mythology
I had a hard time with The Child Thief at first, mostly because of the grammar and the cursing. Cursing should always be used to make a point, but half the time the only point used is to point out that the characters are vulgar little guttershites who use it like they're parrots who have been taught a new word. Grammar, on the other hand, is never a suggestion: it's a must! When you have unintelligent drug dealers using bad grammar, it's expected, but when it's in the text itself, its just poor writing.
The other part is the word choices. There are flashback's of Peter in the world before certain curse words and very vulgar phrases were used as insults, and yet they are used with such regularity that it just doesn't seem time period appropriate. I don't expect a lot of "tis" and "thee"'s, thought they do get used by the flesh eaters from time to time. Having a goddess call another goddess around 600 AD the C word just seems kind of silly and pointless.
The overall theme of the book is about religious intolerance, which was strange for me since it's about Peter Pan, the child who never grew up. The book spotlights the fact that one of the gods of Avalon is referred to as The Horned One, and that he is mistaken by early Christians as their devil, and their followers as devil worshipers. The lost boys, now called the Devils, are even a play on the fact that they were children from families being mistaken as devil worshipers. Even the pilgrims are religious fanatics, turned into monsters by the magic of Avalon poisoning them.
Only half way through the book, I'm impressed by the story. Though it is rough and rowdy, it has a feeling that all Peter Pan stories had before, though there is a certain measure of childish wonder missing from it. The Child Thief is definitely worth a good look, if you can find it used, preferably.