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Heartless

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“Heartless” by H. G. Parry is a book telling a dark prequel to Peter Pan.

When James and Peter were little and lived in a London workhouse, James would tell Peter fantastical stories at night to help them escape reality. When Peter is taken one night, James begins a journey of years to find him again. When he does, he learns that the stories that children tell hold a special terror for grownups.

This worked so well for me. James’ obsession and ultimate acceptance as Hook is a gripping slide into madness and grief. The book is short in length, but not lacking in prose or structure. It’s a very good read.

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There is something distinctly magical about an H. G. Parry book. Maybe it's her prose (exquisite, luminous, fluid) or her scholar's ability to create works that unravel classic English literature (what I wouldn't give to be in one of Parry's literature classes!). Suffice it to say, I've been a huge fan of her works since her debut, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heap, a riff on Dickens' works that's so deliciously nerdy. I adored A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians and its sequel, and I've had The Magician's Daughter on my TBR for ages.

So, suffice it to say, I was THRILLED to get my hands on an early copy of Heartless, a Peter Pan retelling that asks the question: what if Captain James Hook and Peter Pan were childhood friends?

Functioning as both a quasi-origin story for Barrie's original works and an interrogation of the source material, Heartless has all the classic hallmarks of a Parry book. It's brainy, heartfelt, and witty, and practically tailor-made for those English majors who had to leave English behind for the working world, but never forgot the classroom (hey! Kinda like Nerverland!!). I adored her take on Captain Hook and Wendy (Gwendolyn in her version) Darling. I adored the anti-colonial undertones of Neverland and Parry's rumination on how the act of storytelling fundamentally changes reality. It is a short book, more novella than novel, so I'm going to refrain from saying anymore.

An absolute must-read -- my only complaint is that it ends so soon! I could've easily spent 200 more pages in the world Parry crafted.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Subterranean Press, and H. G. Parry for gifting me this e-ARC in exchange for my honest review!

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A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry remains one of my favorite books, so I knew I couldn't pass up the author's take on Peter Pan with her new novella, Heartless.

Parry gives readers a perfectly dark yet poignant and heartfelt reimagining of Peter Pan from the perspective of James Hook while exploring the darkness of obsession, the complications of friendship and love, the passing of time, and the unavoidable march toward death. Heartless is essentially an origin story for Captain Hook and Neverland itself. I found it incredibly clever and unique, and Parry's prose shines.

My only complaint, I wish it was a bit longer. I would have loved to see James at sea for at least some of the 20 years before he reached Neverland.

I think fans of Peter Pan and retellings alike will enjoy this. You don't need to have read the original to appreciate the story, as most people have some knowledge of Peter Pan's story.

Thank you to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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A stunning, emotive, surprising, imagining of Neverland's beginnings. Parry asks, what if James and PEter knew each other as children? The result is a bittersweet tale about the terror of growing up, the power of stories - of sharing them, of mingling them with others - to make that terror a little bit more bearable, and the horrible feeling of being left behind by the one you love most/the only one who loves you. Parry's tale is perfectly suited to its novella length.

Highly recommend.

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a peter pan retelling novella that added some great, new concepts to the classic story. i particularly loved the lack of life in neverland and peter’s characterization. the descriptions were haunting and made me think. i ultimately felt something lacking in my connection to the characters, perhaps because it was a novella, which i don’t typically read, but overall it was an interesting read.

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First time reading H G Parry, and really enjoyed this book. Wasn't sure about revisiting Peter Pan, but this was done very well. Obviously enjoyed the characters, and the story and pacing were great too. Will need to read more of H G Parry. #Heartless #NetGalley

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4.5 stars

When newly orphaned James meets another orphan Peter at a London workhouse, they form a strange friendship, despite Peter’s tendency to be cruel and mean to the other children. What draws them together is stories. Peter asks James to tell him stories every evening, so at first James sticks to the stories his mother used to tell him. But gradually, he makes up his own stories about how he is a pirate in the world of Neverland and Peter is a king.

But one day Peter flys out of the workhouse window in pursuit of a star. When James tries to follow, he falls to the ground, almost killing himself. After months of recovery and meeting a new friend, James decides to search for Peter. How far will James go to find Peter? Who is Peter really?

I’ve not read Peter Pan before, but I’ve seen many adaptations. And I thought H.G. Parry did an excellent job retelling this story! It makes me want to read the original even more now.

I’ve also heard that the book is much darker in tone than any of the Peter Pan movies. If that is so, then Parry also captures the darkness of this tale. Both James and Peter are deeply flawed characters. Heartless is a character study that looks at the transition between childhood and adulthood, the complexity of friendships, and in a more quiet but impactful way explores colonialism and greed.

If you’re a fan of Peter Pan, if you enjoy reading about complex, messy characters, and if you are a retelling addict like me, I’d recommend picking up Heartless!

*Thank you to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for the digital arc. All opinions are my own.

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Absolutely incredible novella retelling of Peter Pan. I read this in one day and I absolutely adored it.

Heartless begins with James, a young boy in an orphanage in London who meets and befriends another orphan named Peter. James becomes enamored with his friendship with Peter, and he tells him stories every night about a land called Neverland, where Peter Pan and Captain Hook reside. Then, one day, Peter leaves the orphanage, leaving James alone to face the world.

This book does an incredible job of filling an entire story into only ~140 pages, and it truly develops its characters. I felt so strongly for James, and it is one of the only books I have ever highlighted in my kindle. I finished this book and instantly wanted to yell on top of the rooftops about how someone else needs to read this so I have someone to share my feelings with. This is an emotional story, and it is so reflective. Parry does an amazing job of incorporating the original story with her own creative path, and I cannot speak highly enough of it.

Thank you to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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Genre: historical fantasy
England, 19th century, and Neverland

When James ends up in a workhouse at the age of seven, he doesn’t expect to make friends with Peter, the boy who whispers to him in the dark and asks James to tell him stories. For the years of their boyhood together, James spins tales of a place called Neverland, weaving himself and Peter into the stories as Peter Pan and James Hook. Aging out of the children’s wing of the workhouse, Peter, insisting he doesn’t want to grow up, jumps from a ledge and flies away. James wonders if he can do the same, but falls crashing to the ground instead of flying after his best friend. James recovers and works to rebuild his life, meeting Gwen Darling, a young girl looking for adventure herself. They create new lives for themselves on board a ship, even as James can’t let go of his friendship with Peter. But twenty years later, James sees the second star to the right, and he can’t help but wonder if Peter is still out there.

This is a perfect book for Worldbuilding Wednesday. Peter Pan and Neverland live in the collective imagination - for those of my generation it's primarily through the movie Hook - and every new version of it spins a new tale. In this version, the act of telling stories builds the world of Neverland. James’s imagination springs forth the strange geographies that only a child can imagine, and inhabits the land with people from the penny dreadfuls. The crux of the conflict late in the novella hinges on the limits of a child’s imagination.

Heartless is an emotional novella. It’s an interpretation of Peter Pan, rather than retelling, and the elements that Parry borrows work so well to balance what it means to stay young, to grow up, and to chase dreams at any age. Make sure this book is on your radar. It is a tight and well-structured novella - sometimes she goes spare on plot points, but that adds to the dreamlike quality of the book; that feeling like when you wake from a dream with only the faintest grasp of what happened. Heartless is bittersweet and emotional, with gorgeous prose and thoughtful reflection.

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An incredible retelling of Peter Pan from Captain James Hook's perspective. James and Peter meet as boys in the workhouse, where James spends their nights telling stories: the ones he learned from his mother and ones he makes up about Neverland. James can't forget Peter even 20 years after they're separated.

H.G. Parry is one of my favorite authors, and this novella is a perfect example of why that is. She takes the traditional Peter Pan themes of storytelling, loyalty, and (of course) growing up and makes them into a powerful fable, both recognizable and strange. Her writing is just a dream!

If you've been nervous about starting her books because of their length, this novella is the perfect place to start. It is fabulously strange and poignant.

This objective review is based on a complimentary copy of the novel.

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She does it again!!! This is such an incredible retelling of Peter Pan, and it’s done in such a unique way. Her last year’s book sealed the deal for me- she is a must read author, and this book is just another reason for that.

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This novella was an entirely new take on the story of Peter Pan, and I loved it. H. G. Parry's historical settings are amazing, and this definitely lived up to my expectations. A lot of the Peter Pan retellings that I have read also paint Peter as the villain, but typically the protagonist is Wendy or a descendant of Wendy. I really enjoyed the twist on that story, showing the origins of the rivalry between Peter Pan and Captain Hook, as well as the origins of the situation with the alligator. For such a short story, Heartless made me feel a ton of emotions. I would really like to see Parry retell other fairy tales in a similar way.

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No one does fantasy like H.G. Parry, and it's a true tragedy that she's not better known in the US. Heartless is a Peter Pan retelling, told in classic H.G. Parry style, with gorgeous language, perfect plotting, and a decent amount of heart (despite what the title suggests). My favorite H.G. Parry is The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, a book based on many classic novels, but especially David Copperfield. Heartless is a novella, so less of the tender character development of Uriah Heep, or even her other works, but it manages to put an intriguing spin on a story we're all very familiar with. A fun, quick read to start the year off, and sure to please fans of cozy fantasy like Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

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I received an eARC of this book for review from Subterranean Press via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
• The brief: This fantasy novella is inspired by J.M. Barrie’s classic, Peter Pan. Orphans James and Peter spend years together at a London workhouse before Peter escapes. Decades later, James may finally be able to follow his odd friend to a strange and distant land. It might have been better if he had never had that chance.
• If you enjoy modern yet faithful interpretations of classics that incorporate beautiful prose and a strong plot, I urge you to give this one a chance!

I requested this title because I’d read Parry’s previous work, The Magician's Daughter. I am so glad I did! Heartless has deep and compelling characterization, an engaging plot, strong world building, and layered symbolism. You don’t have to be an ardent Peter Pan lover to appreciate this work. I’m not, and yet I was fully absorbed the entire time. It is nearly impossible to give you a more detailed plot summary than the published synopsis without spoilers. What I can say is that this book… it’s my new head-cannon. Don’t skip it – you will certainly regret it.

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I really enjoyed this take on Peter Pan!

Some of the details were heartbreaking, like Peter’s origin and Gwendolen’s fate and the details laid out for the Peter Pan story we actually know.

This one tugs on your heartstrings, too. James and Gwendolen are both such loveable characters, it’s very easy to get swept away in their story.

Two things didn’t quite work for me, though. Being only 140 pages, this whole plot felt SO rushed. I would have liked to have spent more time with James and George at sea, get to know the ways they’ve changed over the years. The other thing sort of leads on from that - I did not get the sense AT ALL that 20 years had passed. Not only to we miss any on-page development or true passing of time, but James’s dialogue felt just as juvenile at 34 as it had at 14. There was no sense of him having aged or gained any experience despite spending 20 years at sea.

Despite this, it was an easy, enjoyable read.

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So that was delightfully horrifying. I’m only a casual Peter Pan fan (familiar with Disney and Once Upon a Time), so I loved seeing the hallmarks of Neverland reimagined in this novella. We get to see young James growing up alongside his aloof and mercurial fellow orphan Peter, how an imaginary world grew from whimsy and bedtime stories, and the following obsession and tragedies that haunted James much later in life. I love how each detail comes together in a satisfying way and the often macabre results of faerie magic, which feel in keeping with the faerie tales of the historical setting.

I would’ve loved to have more to the story, particularly during the large time skip in the middle, but for this being a novella, I see how those extra adventures aren’t needed.

Although quite different from HG Parry's last book, Heartless is an enchanting read in its own way, and I can't wait to see what stories will come next.

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I've been a fan of HG Parry's since I was first introduced to The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep years ago. So I was immediately drawn in by her retelling of the story of Peter Pan.

This is the story of a young boy named James, who grew up, and a young boy named Peter, who did not, and the stories they shared in the darkness of an English workhouse.

I knew going in that I was going to get a powerful examination of the stories we tell, and how they shape us, but I wasn't expecting to get my heart broken at the same time. Parry did an excellent job balancing the horror of a never changing boy with a nuanced understanding that there is more to the story than that. She also takes the well established villain of Captain Hook and, even in this short novella, gives him a depth and humanity that made me feel pity for him as he settled into his role in Neverland.

Parry hits it out of the park again, and is quickly establishing herself as an auto buy author for me.

I am very grateful to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for this ARC.

Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌗
Release Date: January 31st, 2024

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I really wanted to love this book. If I see a peter pan Retelling I always want to read it. This book just seemed so rushed. It read like a rough draft to me. No details, no real descriptions just beginning... middle... end.

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Wonderful retelling of Peter Pan. I loved this heartbreaking story. Peter is deliciously wicked but Captain Hook is so much more than usual.

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I am a sucker for retellings, but I honestly worried a little going in that Peter Pan had already been pretty well mined for material. Especially so if Parry planned to go anywhere dark with this; just in the last 5 years or so, it seems like I've encountered an awful lot of short stories taking the more unsettling elements of Peter Pan (which, to be fair, don't require much plumbing of depths to get to) and gone *exceedingly*, disturbing places with them.

But Parry's brilliance is criminally under-recognized, she's written two 5-star-for-me books (for which my entirely subjective criterium is something like "changed who I am or how I look at the world"), she wrote my favorite book that I read in 2023 (The Magician's Daughter), and I've yet to read anything that came from her brain that I didn't really, really enjoy the hell out of. Plus her fiction almost always includes some element of commentary on stories and what they mean to people and how stories and people shape each other, for which I have a major soft spot.

So I figured that if she were doing something with Peter Pan, I'd want to read it even if I were feeling kind of over Peter Pan at the moment. And I am so glad I did. It's weird, and it's different, and yes it's got pathos but where other "Peter Pan but darker" renderings often revel in a monstrous take on Peter and fairies, Parry has more compassion for her characters, and that nuance allows characters be be a bit tragic rather than twisted. Nobody is awful just for shock value, which makes such a difference. And yes, there are thoughts about what stories are to us (and what we do to stories, as well).

Parry's work often makes me cry but in a way that I end up being so grateful for. It's never what I expect but somehow always what I want. I desperately hope more people discover this author's work, and this novella is a gem, so I hope you'll give it a try.

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