This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle. It has been reposted here with permission.
Following last year’s incredible — and heartbreaking — Wendy, Darling, author A.C. Wise is back with another gorgeous, thoughtful Neverland tale with Hooked, which follows the one-handed, once-nefarious pirate captain who acted as a nemesis to eternal child Peter Pan. But because this is A.C. Wise, the novel once again calls into question everything you thought you knew about Captain Hook. If Wendy, Darling showed how miserably Peter Pan treated those meant to be his friends, it was only a matter of time before we found out his enemy was treated far worse.
Framed as a sort of thriller-murder mystery, the story follows Hook — James, as he’s known in London — Wendy and Jane as they track down a mysterious beast from Neverland who has crossed over into their world and is stealing the very essence of innocent bystanders, Jane’s flatmate included.
Horrible as the deaths are, they spur James into action for the first time in years, allowing him to clear some of the fog of grief and opium use from his mind. After escaping Neverland 15 years prior, the former captain has struggled to process the life that Peter stole from him to make him a functional puppet in his childish games. He is also grieving the loss of Samuel, the lone member of his crew who crossed over with him, but who passed under circumstances for which James is desperate to place some blame.
For their part, though Wendy and Jane came to a degree of understanding by the end of Wendy, Darling, in Hooked we see that their truce and bond was only temporary. A lifetime of secrets and trauma and pain is not so easily unwound that one fantastical adventure can sweep it all under the rug. Far from it, their earlier Neverland adventure really serves to make it all that much worse. Wendy is still unable to let her daughter in, and Jane still harbours anger at her mother for the her habit of keeping things to herself, and for Wendy’s failure to save Jane’s lone Neverland friend, Timothy.
This, really, is the strength of Wise’s Neverland books. Though set in a fantasy world every reader has some familiarity with, the issues surrounding the world and the characters feel firmly rooted in reality.
The last book questioned the treatment of the oppressed — women, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ people — while diving into themes of innocence lost and the addictive nature of losing yourself in illusion. Hooked builds on these ideas very skillfully by examining what happens when the root of your problem is no longer there to point the blame at.
Peter Pan himself only really appears in this book in flashback. After Wendy brought his reign of terror to an end in the last book, she does not choose to somehow resurrect the boogeyman for round two. Because that isn’t how life works. The person responsible for James, Wendy and Jane’s suffering might be gone, but his effect over them remains, like a shadow gradually growing darker over time.
He might not be literally visible in the book, but his presence is painfully present all the same.
As before, Wise strikes a wonderful balance between the familiar and the unsettling. And it is unsettling, but not so much that it’s off-putting. Rather it will remain a part of you, much like Neverland does, so your own future trips there might never feel the same again.
Hooked is available July 12, 2022. Special thanks to Netgalley and Titan Books for the advance copy for review purposes.