Two boys, worlds and centuries apart.
In a time of magic, a penniless boy named Matyas runs away to the Academy of Wizards to pursue his dream – to discover the secret of flying. Along the way he will become the greatest Master of his age, only to lose everything.
In the modern day, Simon Wisdom struggles to hide his psychic abilities while his father Jack lives in fear that those powers will destroy his son. But nothing can stop Simon from hearing the cries of dead children pleading for his help.
Matyas and Simon will never meet. But they are bound together, for only their combined strength can hope to overcome the monster that haunts existence itself – the Child Eater.
Rachel Pollack is famous largely for her novel Unquenchable Fire and for taking over Vertigo’s Doom Patrol after Grant Morrison left the title. Famous may, however, be an overstatement. The Child Eater is Rachel Pollack’s seventh novel and her first new one in over a decade, so with that background behind her, let’s talk about the book itself…
The Child Eater comes wrapped in a package that both reveals and conceals the novel it encloses. While mysticism and urban-fantasy-style ideas play a significant role in the novel, this is neither horror nor a “secrets of the universe” kind of book; its two entwined narratives are both coming of age, young adult-ish pieces that while set in different worlds with very different protagonists interact and parallel each other fascinatingly. This may be the greatest strength of the novel; Pollack has some themes that run across chapters virtually from the start, including the Child Eater of the title and the role of poetry, but other elements appear in one narrative earlier than the other, or are picked up in different ways across the two halves of the story. The Child Eater dances what is a structurally fascinating narrative dance, and spirals in towards a brilliantly executed conclusion.
Pollack also manages some excellent character work. Jack and Simon, the protagonists of the present-day narrative, are a well-written father and son, with Simon’s growing problems and the development of his abilities running into Jack’s desire that the Wisdoms be “more normal than normal” after events in his own childhood. The way they clash off each other occasionally makes the reader, standing outside the novel, very frustrated, but with the characters, not the writing. The fantasy strand of The Child Eater, however, falls down here; Matyas’ arc is a fascinating one at the start and end of the novel, but a lot of the time his lack of actual character development frustrates and annoys, as we don’t see the growth that we would, as readers, expect. That his character is handled fantastically at the end of his arc makes up for this somewhat, and rather recovers the novel.
Finally, the plot of the novel. This is The Child Eater‘s major weakness. While the character arcs are more nuanced than the average coming of age, and the structure of the plot is excellently handled, the actual plot itself is rather less so. The thematic motif of Tarot cards is increasingly heavy handed, and the plot itself is nothing we wouldn’t expect from any fantasy novel; the chosen (male) one destined to vanquish the great Evil. That the whole novel openly builds to this is no consolation; perhaps if we saw more from major, active women in the book (as opposed to crushes, mentors and victims), or even better if the chosen one was female, I’d be less frustrated by this, but the whole thing is let down by the malecentricity and unoriginality of the plot.
That’s not to say it isn’t worth reading. The Child Eater is a beautiful, fantastically constructed novel with some truly excellent character work, and one that could be shared with anyone of any age without fear; Pollack’s first novel in over a decade really is worth picking up, just pick up something with a female protagonist at the same time…
DoI: This review was based on a final copy of the novel solicited from Jo Fletcher Books before publication. It is released today in the UK and US.