If somebody would have asked me which contemporary horror writer I would choose to write a dark fantasy largely aimed at children, I must admit that Clive Barker would not be top of the list. Most of his work is sexual often with themes of homosexuality and usually BDSM. Not that I have a problem with this but for those reasons Clive Barker would never jump out at me as being the ideal writer for a children’s dark fantasy. Therefore I was surprised when I opened The Thief of Always and not only enjoy it, but to afterwards consider it my favourite Barker novel.
Harvey is ten years old and bored with school so when a mysterious man ‘Rictus’ offers him the chance to go to the Holiday House where he can celebrate Christmas every night and just generally play and have fun for as long as he wants, Harvey jumps at the chance. The fantasy world is as amazing as he imagined and when he phones his mother to let her know that he is alright she oddly advises him to ‘stay as long as he likes’. He makes friends with two other children and as the (short) book progresses, they start to realise that not is all as it seems. When the truth comes out, it is more horrifying than they could ever have imagined.
The world Barker has created is bizarre and fantastical; there is enough content and underlying theme to engage both children and adults. In some ways it feels very much long a modern horror, in other ways it feels rather like a homage to the likes of the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson etc.