thief of always, the

Clive Barker
HarperCollins
1992

The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.

Mr. Hood’s Holiday House has stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace.  It is a place of miracles, a blissful round of treats and seasons, where every childhood whim may be satisfied.  There is a price to be paid, of course, but young Harvey Swick, bored with his life and beguiled by Mr. Hood’s wonders, does not stop to consider the consequences.  It is only when the House shows its darker face – when Harvey discovers the pitiful creatures that dwell in its shadows – that he comes to doubt Mr. Hood’s philanthropy.  The House and its mysterious architect are not about to release their captive without a battle, however.  Mr. Hood has ambitions for his new guest, for Harvey’s soul burns brighter than any soul he has encountered in a thousand years…

For the most part, Clive Barker is known to the casual fan as the writer of some of the most dark and twisted horror this side of H. P. Lovecraft: his Books Of Blood anthologies, The Hellbound Heart, The Damnation Game, all pretty much cemented his name within the pantheon of modern-era horror fiction writers.  Later years he has moved on to more dark fantasy type stories with books like Weaveworld, Imajica and the Art Trilogy, but they’ve all had that familiar dark edge to tem that flavored his early horror fiction.

The Thief Of Always, published in 1992, is unique in that it’s more or less a modern fairy tale fantasy for young adults.  Meaning, those of you who find Barker’s normally graphic depictions of violence, sex and language won’t find that here.  Which, for those of you doubting the quality because of this kind of restraint, shows Barker’s writing talent as a pure storyteller without having to rely on the usual shock tropes.

The story in The Thief Of Always is still dark, only more like Roald Dahl meets Neil Gaiman kind of dark, in that it strikes a good balance between whimsy and dark fantasy that works pretty well.  I don’t think I’ll be reading this to my younger nephews any time soon, mind you, but readers of the Harry Potter books – i.e., older preteens to adults- would find this a good yarn to read curled up next to a fire (or some reasonable facsimile therein) on a dark, stormy weekend afternoon.