Peter and the Shadow Thieves, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

November 4, 2012 at 23:04 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fairy Tales, Fiction, Highly Rated Books) (, , , , )


The startling success enjoyed by Barry and Pearson in their striking debut, Peter and the Starcatchers is not, strictly speaking, quite so startling as to compell doubt in their ability to repeat it. As noted in the review of that book, they neither set out nor managed to write great and towering literature (in spite of very deliberately dangling their toes into that hazardous pool), but found themselves with a very successful and modest adventure story.

In the sequel, some dramatic improvements and some glaring pitfalls will immediately confront the reader. It will not take readers long to realise that there really is no plot in this book that has anything to do with Never Land or the Lost Boys. This is a Peter-and-Molly adventure, and neither James nor Captain Hook are to be invited. With this established, it would have been a wise decision for the authors to abandon pretense of telling a dual narrative, the second of which is anaemic, scatterbrained, and woefully neglected.

“In the distance lay London’s familiar landmarks–the Tower, Tower Bridge, Parliament–looking majestic even in the coal-clouded air. On the right lay the vast, busy complexity of the London docks, a forest of masts rising from hundreds of ships.”

-Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Perhaps a hidden blessing in the abortive second storyline is that Barry and Pearson do realise very quickly where their strengths lie. The tantalising threads of storyline strewn through the first book are taken up again with a vengeance, and both authors set about moulding a book that is not just an origin-story for Peter Pan, but a detailed and layered foundation on which to grow their own creation.

It must also be noted that a constant annoyance has leaked over from the first book, and even grown in proportion. The narrative voice seems more than a trifle rushed, as if the authors have enthusiasm and pluck, but a dearth of real penmanship. London, a city deftly and brilliantly sketched by a hundred authors and songwriters and poets, is muzzily construed at best, with a postcard reconstruction that conjures up exactly nothing. The street urchins are halfhearted, the scrapes and japes fizzle out almost as soon as they begin, and as the characters scurry hither and yon on various brief and unfulfilling quests, there is the distinct feeling that they too are trying to pick up the pieces of a dropped story.

But in the face of this frankly disappointing canvas upon which a good half of the book is played out, there are several reassuring notes. The authors build upon the main characters they had begun, and manage to do so while re-covering precisely the right amount of ground, and unveiling precisely the right amount of mystery to encourage reticent readers to warm to and even grow excited by them. The progression of the starcatcher tale is excellently paced, and it is difficult to accuse this book of dragging its feet.

An encouraging sequel to an impressive beginning, and one that largely improves on its predacessor. Mistakes were made, and this book is far from perfect. But it is enjoyable, and enjoyable is sometimes better than perfect.

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