Sometimes, large shoes can be filled. This is a difficult thing to do, and even authors with famous names or literary renown fall spectacularly and catastrophically short of the mark, when trying to pick up the pen of a more gifted man or woman. Neither Barry nor Pearson are novice authors, but nor could it be said that either of them are burdened with a tremendous amount of experience in children’s literature (which is harder to write than many people expect, and all the more awful when it is done badly). In Peter and the Starcatchers the authors choose an especially difficult subject, being as it is a story that has been recast and reimagined countless times by dozens of storytellers throughout the course of a century. The prospect of borrowing from other adaptations or traditions, or the wilder temptation to take the story in a totally unexpected and erratic direction, must have been frightfully difficult to resist.
As it is, this first book has some rough edges. Barry and Pearson aim staunchly for the centre of the old adventuring tradition, and if they do not score a perfect bull’s eye, then at least they score close enough to conjure up the magic of the classics they seek to emulate. Their writing is not beautiful, and they do not demonstrate the ability to clutch a reader’s heartstrings, to cause hands to slip nerveless on pages, or a wistful sigh to punctuate the turning of the final page. But if the reader remembers that this is a tribute and an addendum to the original story and not a displacement, if the reader begins this book in a spirit of adventure and a willingness to be thrilled, then it is a very rewarding experience indeed.
There are some characters who will grow tiresome, and there are a few damp squibs, where the story builds up to a rollicking climax only to back off half apologetically and try again, but for a reader willing to forgive occasional lapses, and who is willing to become as excited by the story as the authors clearly are, then this is a book to stay up all night reading.