Let’s get this straight right off the bat: Everything you have ever heard about Neverland is a lie. Peter Pan is not the good guy, fairies can be a b*tch, Captain Hook is hot, Neverland is a place to be avoided at all costs, and the Lost Boys kill for fun. As far as retellings go, Unhooked has a lot to offer.
Gwendolyn Allister has spent her life moving from one place to another. Not just for the commissions her artist mother receives, but also because the unstable woman believes that monsters are hunting them. The past couple of years have been stable in Connecticut, with Gwen finally believing she would stay in one place for awhile, and her last year of school would be with her best friend Olivia. And then her mom moves them to London.
Drizzly grey London is nothing like the city Gwen left behind, the dingy flat is nothing like the warm cottage back home, but she won’t be there long. Dark shadows kidnap the girls from their restless sleep that first night, and they are flown far from the city and into another world.
The characters. I like Gwen, even though, through no real fault of her own, she makes one disastrous decision after another throughout the novel. She has spent her life with her mother in ignorance, and it continues in the new world, with no one ever giving her enough data to make informed choices. But she seems to have a strong character and doesn’t take kindly to captivity or being kept in the dark. She is determined to save herself and her friend. There are times when she is a bit passive, out of character, but, for the most part, is strong.
Olivia, the Captain, Pan, Fiona, the Queen, and the boys are even better. Each individual has two sides. Good and evil sometimes change faces, and one cannot always be sure which is which.
The world building, the plot, both get an A++. From London to Neverland, author Lisa Maxwell brings the scenery to life. London is grey and morose, Neverland is ever-changing and terrifying. You can hear the creak of the ship on the black water, feel the shaking of cannon fire, sense the grey mist enveloping you as you wander lost on the island.
The idea that the Captain and Pan are pawns caught on opposite sides of a more powerful and complicated war is fantastic. Gwen holds a power that can change their world, and the Dark Ones will stop at nothing to control her.
I love the story within the story at the beginning of each chapter. It isn’t obvious where it is going until the very end, but it never detracts from the central narrative.
The conclusion was a surprise and overall, well done, although it felt a bit rushed after all the suspense. And the epilogue wraps it up nicely.
Love triangles are not my favourite, but when well written can add to a story. I don’t even mind the occasional love-at-first-sight moment, it can be fun. But please, for the love of all that is holy, who writes a scene where a girl is mysteriously kidnapped by flying monsters she had no idea even existed and one of the first things she does after almost dying and being held captive against her will by a one-armed pirate is to notice how hot her captor is and how he makes her feel all warm inside? SERIOUSLY? At least find out what side he’s on. Or, you know, his name. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome, without the extended period of confinement. Sheesh. I was so frustrated I put the book down for three days.
I also did not like the direction that Gwen and Olivia’s relationship took; what started out as such a strong friendship crumbled over a boy. Yes, there is dark magic involved, but it seemed too easy.
Overall, though, this is a wonderful retelling with a lot of new ideas and directions in it. The good definitely outweighs the bad, in my opinion. It is interesting how good and evil are never quite what they appear to be at first glance. Anyone can read it, and there is enough action and adventure to counteract the initial off-putting (to me) romance.
Unhooked was published February 2nd, 2016 by Simon Pulse.