Though fairytale retellings are all the rage right now in the world of publishing, they tend to focus on more explicitly female stories—helping princesses find their voices, giving evil queens the depth they often lack in the original tales, exploring what love and relationships look like after the traditional happily ever after.
But what do you do with a story like Peter Pan, a fairytale that’s kind of weird and uncomfortable on its best day? With its child protagonist who refuses to grow up, kidnaps other children, and occasionally commits acts of violence in the name of his own cleverness, it’s not exactly an aspirational or comforting sort of tale. No wonder it’s so easy for writers to explore the darker sides of the story—and, more importantly, to question how we’re meant to feel about its supposed hero.
Author A.C. Wise’s previous Pan-focused retelling, Wendy, Darling, followed the story of the eldest Darling child as an adult, determined to prevent her own daughter from experiencing the same trauma she did. Her latest, titled Hooked arrives this July, and aims to offer a similarly layered exampination of the story’s supposed villain, Captain Hook.
Described as a modern-day take on Peter Pan perfect for fans of Christina Henry and V.E. Schwab, Hooked is a horror-tinged feminist continuation of the stories of both Wendy and Hook that explores themes of grief, healing, and survivor’s guilt.
Here’s how the publisher sets up the story.
Captain James Hook, the immortal pirate of Neverland, has died a thousand times. Drowned, stabbed by Peter Pan’s sword, eaten by the beast swimming below the depths, yet James was resurrected every time by one boy’s dark imagination. Until he found a door in the sky, an escape. And he took the chance no matter the cost.
Now in London twenty-two years later, Peter Pan’s monster has found Captain Hook again, intent on revenge. But a chance encounter leads James to another survivor of Neverland. Wendy Darling, now a grown woman, is the only one who knows how dark a shadow Neverland casts, no matter how far you run. To vanquish Pan’s monster once and for all, Hook must play the villain one last time…
Hooked will be released on July 12 from Titan Books, but we’re excited to bring you an exclusive first look at this modern-day Peter Pan retelling right now.
LONDON – 1939
The wave curls above him, poised, laden with panic.
He remembers drowning.
Limbs weighted and wanting to drag him down, lungs screaming with the thwarted desire to expand, mouth poised to open traitorously and let in water instead of air.
James gropes for the table beside him, for the pipe, but the smoke is already in his lungs. He remembers to breathe out. His lungs stop screaming when he does. The smoke coils in the air above him, hanging there a moment, teasing the outline of a shape, but when he looks again, it dissipates.
Hunger gnaws at him and he pulls in another lungful. As he does, James feels himself doubled, a ghost rising from his skin to move about the flat. Slipped out of time, he feels himself once again taking the actions he took moments ago—his hand shaking with need, guts cramping, sweat slicking his skin. He hears the wooden box rattle, the scant amount of opium inside dwindling every day.
A dizzying sensation as he watches himself, feels himself, rolling tar into a sticky ball, pulling it into long strands, filling his pipe. He feels smoke in his lungs. Only a small slip this time, minutes not hours or years, but still, it is disorienting. And it has been happening more and more frequently, his unmooring from time. His guts cramp again, the urge to vomit, and in the next moment, he slams back into his body where he lies on the chaise, gasping for air.
He remembers drowning.
The drug should blunt the effect, stave off the memory of the deaths he suffered again and again at the hands of a mere child, a boy. It used to, but now it only makes the sensation worse, stretching him thin between two worlds, this one and…
James refuses the name. He’s not there; he is here, in London. Home.
But what manner of home is it without…
He glances to the wooden box beside him. What will he do when the opium is gone? He’s an old man, feeling his age now as he never did before. His fingers, once quick-slipping into pockets to relieve them of their bills, once quick with a blade as well, have slowed. What skill does he left to live by?
He lets himself lie back, a rough chuckle taking him and turning into a cough. If he were any other man, he would fear. It would be a race to see what would take him first—starvation, withdrawal, or madness. But he’s always been too stubborn to die, too determined. Weary as he is, above all, he knows he will survive.
James lifts the pipe again, using his flesh and blood hand. The other, wood, gleaming warm in the light and chased in silver, rests in his lap. The delicate, articulated joints that allow him to bend or straighten the fingers when he can be bothered to remember curl slightly now, as if cupping something gently in his palm, but his hand is empty. He draws breath and holds it.
“You promised me you’d be careful. Your dreams are dangerous things, James.”
The voice is a knife, and James whips around. Another fit of coughing leaves his eyes streaming. Through the blur he sees Samuel standing in the corner, hands folded neatly in front of him, expression mixing admonishment and sorrow.
James forgets how to breathe entirely. He forgets the ache in his leg and the fact that when he walks now, he needs a cane to steady him. He’s halfway to rising, going to Samuel, when a twinge in his thigh brings him crashing to one knee beside the chaise. Pain spikes from the point of impact and catches as a gasp in his throat. And still, he almost crawls to the surgeon on hands and knees, a pitiful thing, ready to bury his face in the hem of Samuel’s coat.
But James forces himself to straighten.
“Fuck off.” The words come out smoke-roughened, harsh with emotion and the effort to speak with conviction. “You’re not real.”
It’s unkind, but then so is Samuel’s ghost.
“I don’t want you here.” James tries to curl his lips into their old sneer.
He pulls the memory of striding the deck in a swirl of blood-red coat, men trembling before him, around him like armor. He must be that, not this pathetic creature, brought low with need. Samuel isn’t in the room with him; Samuel has been dead for fifteen years.
Yet the grief hasn’t lessened. Always the wave of it is there, ready to swamp him if James lets his concentration falter for even a moment. If he lets his guard down, time comes unstuck and the pain is just as fresh as it ever was—worse than dying, worse than every time he’s drowned.
The specter in the corner refuses to waver. Samuel’s eyes were never the blue-gray shade fixing James balefully now. Nor was his skin the color of seawater, and just as translucent. James can see straight through him to the wall.
Samuel isn’t real. He isn’t here. And knowing as much does nothing to lessen James’s wanting, the hurt undoing him, unraveling him and leaving him flayed.
“Leave me alone in my misery why don’t you?” He snaps the words, angling his body away so he won’t have to see whether Samuel obediently fades.
But he feels it. A tsk, a disappointed sound pinging directly against the delicate bones of his ear. A sigh of displaced air, and then Samuel is gone. Just like all the other pirates, leaving James alone, the only one.
The sense of loss is immediate. But instead of scrambling to the corner to plead with empty air, he presses down on the feeling of absence like a bruise and lets it ground him. The ache in his chest eases, if only for a moment.
He braces one arm and levers himself up, muscles trembling with the effort. There’s a cold pulse of complaint from his thigh where the shards of something that may or may not be metal buried themselves long ago. But his leg holds when he stands, and James retrieves his cane where it leans against the back of the chaise.
He runs his gaze across the shelves crammed with books—of which he has not read a single one—along the wall, and up to the window that peers like an eye out over London, to the bed, far too large for one man alone, to the stove, the kettle, the wardrobe, his coat hung by the door. Last, as always, his gaze comes to rest on the skull sitting on the bedside table.
James moves slowly, limping to the bed. He ignores the grinding pain from his knee where it struck the floor and the steady ache in his thigh as he sits. His hand—the flesh and blood one—touches down atop the skull. The whorls of his fingertips meet the whorls carved into the bone. The pattern chased in silver is the same design covering his other hand, the wooden one. He’d found a scrimshaw artist to do the work, and though the man had balked when presented with a human skull, James’s money was good enough in the end.
As he pulls the skull onto his lap, his heartbeat finally calms, his breathing steadies. He is here and now, in London. His name is James, not Hook. And he is no one’s captain.
Hooked hits shelves on July 12, but you can pre-order a copy right now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.