I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A prequel and retelling of JM Barrie’s classic children’s novel Peter Pan and Wendy from the primary antagonist’s point of view, Never Never follows Hook as he is taken from London by a marvelous, clever, flying part-fairy ageless boy and shows in detail how James turned from being a proud young boy who couldn’t wait to grow up to Peter Pan’s greatest enemy, the infamous Captain James Hook.
Because this was not a middle grade novel, it dedicated a lot more time and effort into the subtleties of worldbuilding. My favourite part was when Pan was in the world, the air tasted like vanilla – a scent Hook quickly grew to despise. Little touches keeping true to the original play/novel were sprinkled through the story, such as the mermaids being not very nice, and a new island called Keelhaul that only appeared when Pan left Neverland added another dimension to Hook’s burgeoning adulthood. If you’ve read the Barrie novel, you’ll recognise a lot of Neverland in Never Never, but Shrum, whilst keeping mostly true to the canon, managed to take the details one step further to enhance the experience of being in Neverland: for example how the weather and forest changed around Pan’s moods.
CHARACTERS + RELATIONSHIPS
I really felt for Hook in this retelling. I mean, I’ve never liked Peter Pan anyway – he’s heartless, cruel, arrogant, selfish, and completely incapable of caring about anyone but himself. Shrum showed us in great detail exactly how Hook changed from being an unwilling Lost Boy to Pan’s greatest enemy – the slow hardening of his heart, the slow-burn rage against the immortal boy who stole everything from Hook – his life, his love, his hand. But above it all, Hook strove to remain and English Gentleman, an Eton man of good form.
Hook’s relationship with Tiger Lily was interesting – Tiger Lily is Peter’s dream, but she chose to grow up to be with Hook. But being linked as she was to Peter, she could never fully give herself to Hook. I’ve heard about retellings where Wendy is in a love triangle with Hook and Pan, but I’ve never before heard of Tiger Lily in love with the pirate captain, so I found that an interesting twist – and it actually worked really well inside of Barrie’s canon as well.
Another aspect I really enjoyed was the loyalty of Hook’s crew – they immediately recognised him as their captain, even as a boy, and although they occasionally questioned his orders, as he grew older and less polite, the crew remained loyal throughout everything. Starkey and Smee especially had important roles as Hook’s confidants.
WHAT WORKED/DIDN’T WORK
- I absolutely loved how Neverland was Peter’s dream, and he filled it with the dreams of others by stealing Lost Boys from London. Peter was very good at creating how own reality, so even when James insisted his stay was only temporary, Peter would only look at him blankly and insist he was a ‘Lost’ Boy. It made me wonder if the other Lost boys were truly lost, or if Peter stole them with sweet seductions and promises of Neverland like he did Hook. Neverland was Peter’s creation, and actively loved Peter, and that’s why Hook found it so hard to be his enemy. What would happen to Neverland if Peter was killed? Would it cease to exist?
- The book started out very classic middle-grade and as Hook grew up, so did the story, until suddenly it was jarringly Upper-YA and Hook was sexing up all the wenches he would find and having on page sex with Tiger Lily.
- Speaking of, the relationship with Tiger Lily didn’t always work. It felt very Ross and Rachel, very ‘will they/won’t they’, and so repetitive that it eventually grew boring. I kept awaiting the arrival of the Darling children because then I knew the end would be near.
- I found myself waiting for Hook to get older because I knew he was a full-grown man when he faced Pan for the last time. Somewhere from about the middle of the novel onwards, when he was certainly a man, I kept expecting to see the Darlings arrive, but it was just more dallying around with Tiger Lily, plotting to end Pan but not really doing anything about it, and strutting about the ship yelling at his crew.
Apart from the dragging of the Tiger Lily romance and Hook’s dilly-dallying about killing Pan, which at some points in the novel I found boring and repetitive, I really enjoyed Never Never, especially the first part when Hook is still a boy. The classic middle-grade prose really pulled me in so I found the change to Upper-YA a bit jarring and quite frankly a little deceptive, but it’s obvious Shrum both loves and respects the original story whilst being able to fill in a lot of the details to make a vivid, rich reimagining of Hook’s story.