Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!)
Summary: Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.
With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their never ending game.
Everyone knows the evil Captain Hook, the villain of Neverland. What Alias Hook delivers is the tale of Jamie Benjamin Hookbridge, the eleven-year-old boy obsessed with ships. James Hookbridge, the charming young man who enjoyed women and drink and was in no hurry to settle down. The curse that cast him a devil, the boy who haunts him day and night, and his only chance at a way out.
I’m a big fan of retellings. A big fan. When I first heard about a retelling that focused on Captain Hook, the story that told his side, I couldn’t contain myself. This was a story for me. Unfortunately, after an extremely strong start, I quickly found myself losing focus; Alias Hook lost its steam hardly a quarter of the way into the story.
Hook’s childhood was fascinating and I loved these early alternating chapters between his life in London in the late 1600s and his hellish existence in Neverland in (what turns out to be) 1950. I’m a total sucker for a good backstory and I think it’s crucial to a successful retelling. Hook’s time spent with his father, his passion for the sea, even his early adulthood when he was often found in a saloon with his uppercrust pals or entertaining ladies in a seedy brothel. These windows into just who this man was made the story for me. I’ll take some good old-fashioned character exploration over action scenes any day of the week.
Unfortunately, once his backstory was established and there were no longer any of those lovely looks into his previous life – his mortal life – I found it was a struggle to continue. There was a woman Hook loved, though he secretly wasn’t looking forward to a life at home with a wife and children. He took to the seas and never returned. A dark curse was placed upon him, sending him to a boy’s fantasy world where he would forever be tormented and challenged. Two centuries later – two centuries worth of shipmates, Lost Boys, Wendys, and Pan’s antics – Hook discovers something new to Neverland: a woman.
Stella Parrish was a nurse who aided wounded soldiers in the Second World War. When that world became too unbearable, she sought the refuge of her childhood dreams and soon found herself in a place she immediately recognized from her storybooks. Naturally she doesn’t believe Hook is really the Captain Hook, nor does she take Pan’s word as truth; he’s just a silly boy, a child. What power could he possibly wield? It’s not until she witnessed firsthand just how deadly Pan’s games are that she comes to realize this isn’t silly, this isn’t a game. For centuries Pan has acted out his heroic fantasies while Hook is predestined to lose every single time. While he is never fatally harmed (despite his longing for release from this dreadful place), his men, mere mortals, die for Lost Boys grow up to become men and Pan would never allow grown-ups to plague his world.
Stella’s arrival is met with confusion – if Pan’s in charge and he adamantly refuses to allow adults, just how did a grown woman appear? Hook takes her aboard his ship in an attempt to protect her and possibly gain the upper hand on Pan for once (Hook reasons that Stella made her way to Neverland without Pan’s knowledge and he won’t pass up any advantage he could have over the boy). Over time the two become close and, yeah, I wasn’t at all surprised by the romance – anyone reading this book should not be surprised. The only woman in Neverland and the first woman Hook has seen in over two hundred years? Yeah.
There’s lovely homage paid to J. M. Barrie. Although he’d long since passed by Stella’s arrival, Hook remembers him as Pan’s Scotch Boy. Barrie was one of the Lost Boys and when he returned to our world and grew up, a part of him retained those childhood memories. In his recollections, however, Barrie viewed Peter as a great leader, as all Lost Boys do, thus making Peter Pan beloved and renowned while Hook was demonized.
While I felt the story began to drag once James became Hook, I was never not interested. I certainly wasn’t nearly as invested in the story as I had been in the beginning, leading to it taking nearly two weeks to read when I typically get through a book in two or three days. By the halfway mark I found myself skimming over the longer passages, usually those scenes where Hook was lamenting Stella’s absence or discussing matters with his men. A large part of the book was slow-going and as much as I love a story that takes its time, Alias Hook didn’t have enough to keep me turning the pages. Many nights I only got through a chapter – two if they were short. Although I wasn’t as in love with Alias Hook as I had hoped, I like the idea behind it and I loved the look into Captain Hook’s life before Neverland. His quest for redemption, for death, captivated me and the ending is open to a variety of interpretations. And, really, the cover is seriously spectacular in person. The colors are astoundingly vivid!
We were the envy of every clerk and apprentice in London, and most of their masters. We were dazzling. We were immortal.
This is what I am, what I’ve become in this place: handmaiden to the dead. My last, my only desire is to one day be rewarded for my centuries of service, earn my own passage into the Kingdom of Hades, and be allowed to rest in peace. But I am aged Charon ferrying the souls of the damned to the Underworld where I can never follow. The obolus has yet to be coined that will purchase my passage out of this never-ending Purgatorio.