5/5 stars. Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Less Than Three Press
Austin Chant’s Peter Darling is a sequel to Peter Pan. After trying to force himself to fit into a life as “Wendy Darling”, a grown-up Peter can no longer reject his real identity, and flees his unaccepting parents in a return to Neverland—where he becomes embroiled in restarting his war with Hook, which quickly grows heated in more ways than one.
By itself, it’s an amazing and exciting story, full of adventure, fun, drama, and romance. It stands on its own merits completely and would be a brilliant novel even if it anything Peter Pan-related were scrubbed from it. But as a new take on the universe of Neverland and Peter Pan? It’s genius.
I’ll start with the one side of things and move to the other: as a story in its own, Peter Darling has some of the best pacing I’ve ever read, along with one of the most delightfully natural shifts from enemies to lovers in an EtL story. The bloodthirstiness of their battle giving way to the need to rely on each other giving way to their acknowledgement of each other’s reality was a honestly a pleasure cruise.
The conversion of characters from archetypes to people as part of a story’s structure is obviously one I care a lot about and wanted to spend a lot of time with myself in my own book Beauty and Cruelty; seeing it happen here with such well-known figures was a real delight. The romance was rich and well-established, and the plot hinging on the characters’ understanding of real identity in the midst of escapism reflected and enhanced the themes pretty much perfectly. On top of that, the narrative was beautiful, both perfect for playing off the source material and enjoyable in itself. It’s incredibly quotable; my partner and I both read the book at the same time and kept sending each other bits in chat as we went.
And as I said, when returning to the mythos of Peter Pan, Chant absolutely knows what he’s about and winds things together perfectly.
When I first saw the promos for Peter Darling, I instantly grew hyped because it’s such a perfect idea of a way to relate to the source material. The first description we get of Peter in Barrie’s Peter and Wendy is the below (note that Wendy in Barrie’s work has not at this point ever seen Peter but just has an impression of him):
“‘Oh no, he isn’t grown up,’ Wendy assured [Mrs Darling] confidently, ‘and he is just my size.’ She meant that he was her size in both mind and body; she didn’t know how she knew it, she just knew it.”
Obviously, the connection this makes for a trans Peter works perfectly, and the way Chant moves it forward from that idea is absolutely stunning, because there is already a history of doubling of identities between the characters of London and those of Neverland. Quite often in performances of the play, the same actor plays Hook as plays Mr. Darling. While this was probably originally due to having a limited cast, it was stuck with as a trend throughout the years as both characters are the ‘cruel adult’ of their respective worlds. Since the main themes of the Barrie story focus on the necessity of growing up and what that means, the role being the same in both brings more information to the threat of Hook vs the threat of Mr. Darling (and his world). By taking the core of this idea and applying it in a new way to Peter/”Wendy” instead, Chant draws on a strong tradition while innovating it beautifully.
The Peter Darling plot itself draws on two important points in the Peter Pan canon which are often overlooked—First, in Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, Peter forgets everything constantly in order to to be able to stay forever young, and second, that Neverland itself reacts to Peter’s presence:
“Feeling that Peter was on his way back, the Neverland had again woke into life. We ought to use the pluperfect and say wakened, but woke is better and was always used by Peter. In his absence things are usually quiet on the island. […] But with the coming of Peter, who hates lethargy, they are all under way again: if you put your ear to the ground now, you would hear the whole island seething with life.”
By taking these few basic details of how Neverland works, and how Peter works in Neverland, Chant creates a story that works beautifully in conjunction with the original, while breaking new ground in a delightfully enjoyable yarn of his own.
I couldn’t recommend this story highly enough, whether you’re familiar with the original or not—I promise, it’ll be an awfully great adventure.