“Lost Boy” by Christina Henry (2017)

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“Sometimes I dreamed of blood.”

When books enter the public domain, it’s always an interesting moment. People suddenly have the freedom to explore the worlds and add to them, for better or for worse. Many books, will eventually spawn prequels and sequels that probably stray entirely from the plans of the original writer. The Alice in Wonderland books have been explored repeatedly, and there’s always the “companion” books to Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre (Death Comes to Pemberley and Wide Sargasso Sea, respectively). Sometimes it’s done badly, but other times the results are very interesting and add new layers that still fit with the original text. Lost Boy explores the history of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, and long before he ever met Wendy…

Our narrator is Jamie, one of the Lost Boys that Peter has taken from the Other Place to his magical island where the only adults are scary pirates and the children never have to grow up. It is not, however, the Neverland that we would expect. Here, the Lost Boys can and repeatedly do die, with Peter never seeming to care, instead disappearing to get some more. Jamie is the heart of the troop, actually taking time to care about the boys, especially Charlie, who was far too young to be brought across.

Peter is jealous of Charlie, and later Sal, two recruits who take away so much of Jamie’s time that he feels he’s losing his oldest friend. Their adventures become more dangerous than ever, involving the Many-Eyed (a race of giant spiders that inhabit the island), a fight to the death with an uncooperative Lost Boy, and the pirates who are even more enraged than ever when Peter burns down their camp. Jamie comes to realise that Peter is not the benevolent figure he always assumed he was. Peter has been keeping secrets for a long time, and when they start to spill out, it threatens the life he wants. Jamie, it seems, can’t stay young forever…

I can’t say that Peter Pan has ever been one of my favourite stories ever – I’ve not read the original and I’ve not seen the Disney version in a very long time – but it is certainly a world that seems to require exploring, given that it has so many unanswered questions there within it, such as where Peter came from, why Hook hates him quite so much, and the biology behind those fairies. This book serves as an interesting prequel and one I’m fully happy to accept as canonically correct. It’s hard to write about this without giving away one or two of the reveals towards the end of the book which I’m always loathe to do, but it’s quite obvious from early on – if not from the cover – that the Jamie narrating the story is (or will one day be) none other than Captain James Hook. It’s a great twist to have him as one of Peter’s young friends originally but lose his faith in his leader.

The themes of guilt, blame, friendship, belief and loss jump around one another playfully, but it’s important to note that while we think of Peter Pan has being quite a whimsical character thanks to Disney, the concept of never growing up and having young boys do battle with genuinely threatening pirates is pretty dark. Christina Henry has no problems in taking the story to even darker places, explaining exactly why Peter does what he does and how he manages to never get hurt. The Peter in this novel promises adventures that he can’t deliver, and is selfish in the extreme, with every action being done simply to make him happy. He is unwilling – or maybe unable – to give anyone else much of his time, with the exception of Jamie, who he does seem to particularly love. As the backstory of how Jamie arrived on the island unfolds, however, it reveals itself to be a very sick and twisted kind of love.

I feel it’s not a book that’s going to drop easily from my mind, and if you like delving into expanded universes, this is certainly a strong contender for the best Peter Pan based fiction. But then, I’ve not watched Hook in a long time either.

“The Pirate Loop” by Simon Guerrier (2007)

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pirate loop“Six thousand robots danced through the streets of Milky-Pink City.”

Although I have mixed feelings about the genre of science fiction, I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Doctor Who. That’s probably because, as has been said before, it’s far more of a fairy story than a science fiction tale. There are many people happy to criticise the series for whatever reason, but there are many more who are willing to give it their all and prove that they love it. The 50th anniversary episode (and the fact that it is the first science fiction show to achieve a 50th anniversary) just went to show how much people care about the series and how invested people are in it. It is part of our culture – everyone, in Britain at least, knows what the TARDIS is, what Daleks are, and can probably name at least one of the Doctors.

I’ve read a couple of the books before, and embarked on this one, The Pirate Loop, with a hint of excitement, as it features the Tenth Doctor – a fabulous creation from David Tennant – and Martha Jones, a companion who seems to get a lot of flack from the fandom, for reasons I still don’t fully understand. As she only had one full season with the Doctor, it’s nice to get a few more of her adventures fleshed out. This one takes us to the fortieth century, a time where space piracy is all the rage, and there’s a war brewing somewhere in the galaxy.

The Starship Brilliant disappeared from history one day and no one, not even the Doctor, knows what happened to it. Theories range from suggesting it was destroyed in the first shots of the war, to the idea that it dropped into a black hole. Martha convinces a cagey Doctor to visit the starship and find out what exactly happened and why it vanished. The pair get more than they expect, however, when they stumble upon a cocktail party full of oval, tentacled aliens, a strange substance that looks like scrambled egg, and pirates with the faces of Earth badgers. As it turns out, the ship is being invaded, but, in typical Doctor Who fashion, time is a bit wibbly-wobbly, and things don’t make much sense. And then Martha gets shot, and it goes from bad to worse.

I’ve probably rattled on before about the difficulty in telling stories in different mediums (if I haven’t, then pretend I have – I’ve written over seventy of these now, I can’t remember everything!) but it’s quite pronounced here. Obviously, this adventure was never an episode of the series, but the characters are the same. However, with a novel you don’t get the immediacy of appearance, body language, gesture and tone. These things are explained out – they have to be – and that can slow things down. It sometimes feels like Guerrier is trying too hard to make the Doctor “the Doctor”. Ditto Martha.

It’s a great story, with typically Whovian technical gobbledegook that makes sense in context of the plot. It gives the Doctor a difficult decision, and it, like the best Doctor Who stories, blurs the lines between who is good and who is evil (for a comparable episode of the series, A Town Called Mercy is a good example of that theme). The resolution seems quick and a little sloppy – another one of those ones where the Doctor does something offscreen and it somehow fixes everything.

I think the books do well and remain interesting because they spend far more time with alien races and on alien planets than the show does, thanks to a lack of budgetry concerns. For that reason, I still like it, and it’s nice to see the Tenth Doctor and Martha again, but I’ve read better Doctor Who novels.