“Peter Darling” by Austin Chant

This queer NetGalley read actually comes out TODAY! I totally planned this schedule and it wasn’t a coincidence or anything. So if you’re totally fed up of all the heteronormativity that surrounds Valentine’s Day and you’re thoroughly relieved it’s over, this might be one for you.

peter-darling

Publication date: February 15th, 2017

Peter Darling has a very cool concept: it’s a Peter Pan sequel/retelling where Wendy and Peter are the same person. Peter is trans, and Wendy is his deadname / past self that he has left behind: Neverland is the place where he can be himself. So you can tell from the beginning this is going to be quite a different take on the story, and it continues to be so in other ways. It gets quite meta in places, treating Neverland as a story more than a real place, and without giving any spoilers, this comes with the knowledge that it is essentially controlled by Peter (and to a lesser extent, Hook) in whose minds it was created.

In some ways, this meta telling is true to the ideas of the original story. The idea that belief can save a fairy, for example: it’s the power of thought that controls what happens and who lives in Neverland, and this is the same in Peter Darling. That said, there are some crucial differences between this and the original story, namely that JM Barrie’s story is a children’s book and this isn’t: the romance element makes that quite clear.

(The sexual element of the book is fairly minor and, while unambiguous, isn’t explicit as such, so I doubt it’d offend anyone except homophobes, but it’s there. Which I think is made fairly clear from the blurb, but worth a mention in case people missed that.)

In some ways, I would have liked this book to dig a bit deeper into the things that really fascinate me about Peter Pan’s story, namely how messed up everything about Neverland is once you look closely. However, it’s not long enough to do that, and in some ways therefore it felt a little bit surface-level and incomplete. That said, that would have been a different story and the one it’s telling has a reasonably complete arc from enmity between Peter and Hook, to a reluctant truce, to adventures, to romance, to homecoming and self-acceptance: that, in and of itself, didn’t feel like it was lacking something. I just felt if you’re going to do a queer retelling of Peter Pan, there’s a lot you could get into if you wanted to, and I half-wanted this to do that.

It was nice to read a short book, though, one that managed to have a lot of emotions but was ultimately a quick read with a happy ending. Well, mostly happy. Peter’s alternate storyline in this version means his relationship with his family isn’t great — quite the opposite — although he does care a lot about his brothers; it would have been nice to see some reconciliation there, but that wasn’t something that was able to happen naturally in the timeline of the book.

I felt it was a bit of a shame that there weren’t more female characters. Obviously, combining the characters of Wendy and Peter means you lose your main female protagonist, and aside from Tink and the fairy queen, there weren’t really any others. Tiger Lily is, understandably, a bit of a minefield in terms of race and stereotypes, so I can understand why Chant stayed away from including or even mentioning her. So I don’t have any suggestion for how some could have been included, but nevertheless, it was a very male-dominated book. Even if none of them were straight.

I should probably address the romance element itself. I’m not wild about romance generally and it takes a lot to convince me; in addition, I was a bit apprehensive about the potential imbalance between Peter and Hook on account of the age gap between them and so on. However, I should emphasise that this is very much a story about a grown-up Peter — a young man, but definitely an adult — and that it didn’t come across as too unbalanced in that way.

I know some people who are very enthusiastic about the enemies-to-lovers trope, and I imagine they’d find this engaging. I’m not that wild about it (enemies-to-best-friends-who-will-die-for-each-other? enemies-to-weird-uncle? absolutely) so while I felt it was well done, it’s not, like, my new OTP or something. Because it has to be truly phenomenal to get that reaction from me.

Anyway. Pretty quick read, pretty enjoyable, probably not for the die-hard Peter Pan purists out there but if I’m honest I’ve never met one of those so I think we’re safe.

Rating: ****

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