After finishing Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (reviews coming, I swear!), I wanted something in a similarly adventuresome vein. I’d been meaning to try the Starcatchers series, so I listened to the first one on audio.
About the Book:
Peter and the Starcatchers is a prequel of sorts to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Peter and his fellow orphans are put on board a ship called the Never Land as she prepares to sail from London. Their destination? Rundoon, ruled by a barbarous king to whom the orphans are to be given as slaves. On board, Peter meets and befriends Molly, daughter of the new ambassador to Rundoon. There’s a mysterious chest aboard the Never Land, and Peter is as determined to find out what’s inside as Molly is to stop him.
What ensues is a madcap adventure on the high seas involving porpoises, savages, mermaids, flying children, and the dread pirate Black Stache, all locked in a battle for the mysterious trunk.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, going into Peter and the Starcatchers, seeing as Dave Barry is one of the authors. Anyone who’s read Barry’s adult books would be justified, I feel, in wondering how his style and humor might translate into an adventure tale aimed at children. I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it’s Ridley Pearson’s influence; the end result is exciting, entertaining, and not so ridiculous that you can’t take it seriously.
There are a lot of very clever touches in Peter and the Starcatchers. One of my favorites was the name of Black Stache, clearly a play on the better known dread pirate Black Beard. Barry and Pearson managed to explain each piece of Barrie’s Neverland in terms of their story, so that Peter and the Starcatchers gives as plausible an explanation for the formation of Neverland as one might require. The mermaids, the crocodile, the pirates, the savages, the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell — they’re all there by the novel’s end. Which, seeing as this is a prequel to Peter Pan, I’d expected; I spent much of the novel waiting for each piece of the Neverland puzzle to become clear. I was able to identify most of the elements as soon as they entered the story, long before they’d developed into their final Neverland forms; but then, the book was geared toward a much younger audience than myself. The creativity of Neverland’s origins kept me interested, even if the suspense did not.
My biggest complaint about Peter and the Starcatchers was the endless back and forth. Every group chasing the trunk–and by the end there are quite a few–had and lost the treasure several times each. There are endless moments of surprise and ambush, mini battles and clever tricks, daring escapes and heroic rescues. I could have done with maybe half the antics; it got to be a little much for me. By the end, I felt a bit like I was watching one of those scenes from an old cartoon where the bird is swiped by the cat, is saved by the dog, is stolen by the cat, escapes on its own, inadvertently walks into the cat’s mouth, and so on. All it needed was some frenetic classical music as an underscore!
I think Peter and the Starcatchers is perfect for the age for which it’s written, which is middle readers. It’s exciting and funny and creative, with plenty of action and antics. At some point I may pick up the rest of the series, but I feel no compelling need to do so right away.
The audio version was read by Jim Dale. I was not as impressed by this recording as I have been by some of his others. He excels, of course, at character voices, but there was something rushed about the way he hurried through pauses and chapter breaks. A minor flaw, really; I’d still recommend listening to Peter and the Starcatchers as a good alternative to reading it. I think the recording would work well for children too.
What are your favorite books that tie in somehow with another well known story?