If you’ve ever heard of the story of Peter Pan, then you’re probably familiar with J.M Barrie’s magical world of ticking crocodiles, mermaids, pixies, one-handed pirates and the boy who will never grow up. In Feb. 2016, author Lisa Maxwell introduced her own retelling of the childhood favorite set in a dark, mysterious world where anything is possible. This book was called Unhooked.
Gwendolyn Allister isn’t a stranger to packing up and leaving her own life behind, not that that makes a sudden relocation to London any easier for her. That’s because Allister’s mother is certain that they are hunted… by monsters. Allister’s only light in the dark is her best friend Olivia, who’s decided to stay with them for the summer. It’s only when both girls are kidnapped by a group of shadowy figures and taken to a twisted world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous dark magic wielding Fey, that Gwendolyn starts to think maybe her mom wasn’t so insane after all.
The new world Gwen and Olivia find themselves in is called Neverland, but it’s nothing like the stories. Here, the lines between good and evil are blurred, memories become increasingly murky with every passing moment and Gwen can’t figure out who to trust.
Throughout the novel, Maxwell’s description continued to captivate me, really making it feel as if I was alongside the protagonist in some scenes. This sensory-rich writing was one of the main reasons I continued to read it, along with an abundance of clever ideas that were, unfortunately, concealed within the inner framework of the novel.
Unfortunately, the author’s descriptions and aim for the plot were overshadowed by predictable writing and underdeveloped characters. The opening chapters left me disoriented- mainly exposition that was personally hard to get through- but the tone was quickly set right with Gwendolyn’s kidnapping. There were at least two key characters I thought could have been more thoroughly developed, there were multiple scenes near the middle I found quite dull and personally I found the main character annoying.
That main character and narrator is Gwendolyn. It’s my opinion that one can’t love a story if they can’t stand the person narrating it, and I definitely did not. Gwen was selfish, ungrateful and reckless, making ill-advised mistakes and not thinking things through before throwing the little help she did receive in the provider’s face. Her character was not consistent, but rather contradictory to herself throughout most of the book. She recognizes fear and the potential of danger then disregards both to make her own decisions, which end up being the wrong ones. A majority of those decisions concern her two potential love interests, which are – you guessed it – Peter Pan and Captain Hook.
I’m sure the author intended for there to be a love triangle, which is a good idea had it been properly executed, but the idea didn’t translate in her writing. One was dishonest but not obviously so, at least not to Gwen, the other honest even when talking about those he’s killed to fulfill his own agenda. The idea of blurring the lines between good and evil is also a good one, but it seemed the only one who couldn’t spot the villain was the protagonist. Despite the obvious lack of a functioning love triangle, Gwendolyn is instantly in love with both potential “suitors.” However, she seems to hate them later on while continuously thinking of how attractive they are.
Also, from her appearance in the the synopsis, it can be assumed that Olivia will play a major role in the story. That was not the case. Instead I was greeted with a two-dimensional rich girl estranged from her family. The only authentic character seemed to be Hook, who turned out to be my favorite, as he was more developed than the protagonist.
There was a vague “mysterious boy” narrative intertwined within the actual story, which made sense once it was clarified later on, but was hard to follow while it was happening. By the time the “bread crumbs” from the beginning were explained, I was so annoyed that I didn’t have the ability to appreciate the author’s intentions.
There are some minor plot holes, along with hints dropped earlier on that could have been brilliant, but were briefly explained and then disappeared. The entire story builds to the ending, full of tension and apprehension of the conclusion to the novel, and yet, the conclusion left something to be desired – especially considering it’s a stand-alone – and seemed almost thrown together.
All in all, I would not choose to recommend this book. Despite the sometimes captivating descriptions and underlying, at times, brilliant ideas, the novel was riddled with 1 or 2-dimensional characters, cliches and overall, predictable storyline. I think Maxwell had ideas that could have built up into an amazing Peter Pan retelling if properly executed, however, they were not which was not only disappointing but at times frustrating. Alas, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell is not a book I can see myself picking up again.