Prior to this novel, I had only read Mr. Barker's short stories in the combined volume of his Books of Blood. Many of those stories were pure genius, with riveting plot twists and original premises, but I must admit that I wasn't sure how that would translate into a novel suitable for all ages...
It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. The Thief of Always is a classic fable with enough originality to make it fresh. I was hooked as soon as I read the first paragraph.
Mr. Barker shows an insight into the mind of a child that I don't think I expected from a man who made his mark with tales of gruesome horror. Then again, I probably should have known better given the amazing insight into the human psyche that was apparent in many of his short stories. (Take, for instance, his commentary on mob mentality in "In the Hills, the Cities.")
Like many children in such tales, Harvey's downfall is his boredom and his desire for something different, something fun. He finds himself drawn into a world of wonders that quickly becomes a world of horrors. Barker's supporting cast, the good and the evil, are flawlessly executed with just enough surreal charm to make you fear what might really be going on in Holiday House.
The evil in the story is horrifying (without going too far for a younger reader) and Barker's message is clear. Harvey learns that nothing comes without a price and that time is precious. He learns to appreciate each moment he has with his family and friends, no matter how dull those moments may sometimes seem. In the process of making these discoveries, he also proves himself to be a hero as he overcomes his own weakness to defeat Mr. Hood.
I highly recommend this book for young and old alike ... I've recommended it to my husband, since he's been looking for a light read and this one is well worth the time.