Written ten years before his critically acclaimed Abarat, it’s clear that even though The Thief of Always was Clive Barker’s first foray into Young Adult literature, that it certainly would not be his last, as readers got just a taste of the fantastical quintet that would follow. Here the author introduces us to Harvey Swick, a ten-year-old boy who finds himself indoors one dreary February day, wishing for an adventure to break the tedium of the month that would surely follow. Hearing his plea, a goblin appears with an invitation to visit the “Holiday House” run by his benefactor “Mr. Hood” on the other side of town. Here the boy finds each day transitions through the seasons from a glorious spring morning to a perfect winter evening culminating with the celebration of Christmas during which he and the other two kids Henry finds are already guests at the house receive whatever gift they most desired. They’re encouraged to play and eat as they like. However in true Barker fashion, the actual horror of the place is uncovered as the young protagonist is introduced to the four goblins that serve the mysterious house owner.
Very much a modern day Hansel & Gretel, the Thief of Always masterly weaves together themes and elements from the traditional fairy tales that we’ve all grown up with, as it becomes apparent that “Mr. Hood” has been luring children to his home for as long as the town was there. And while intended for a young audience, it’s an entertaining read thanks to the author’s trademark cadence, which whisks through the story as Henry discovers the truth behind the “Holiday House” and its benefactor, not to mention the fate facing him if he doesn’t keep his wits about him. It’s also a pretty short read and great for the commute. Definitely recommend.