The Stolen Child


Keith Donohue




Date Reviewed:

January 1, 2008

he Stolen Child tells the story of Henry Day, a seven year old boy who is stolen from his family by hobgoblins. The hobgoblins leave a substitute in his place so that no one will suspect a change has occurred. The book tells the story of each of these character - Henry & the hobgoblins, and the changling who takes his place. Each alternate chapter tells the story from their respective point of view - from the perspective of the boy Henry, followed by a chapter of the substitute Henry who has replaced him.

The hobgoblins who kidnapped Henry rename him Aniday, and convert him to their wild forest lifestyle. The hobgoblins are all children who were previously taken just like Henry was - once baptized into the clan (a mysterious magical ritual that somehow transforms a normal human child into a hobgoblin), the children-turned-hobgoblin no longer age, they are gifted with enhanced speed, immunity to cold, ability to see in the dark, and apparently can subsist on very little food. Their feral features are normally dirty and shaggy, but the hobgoblins can transform their flesh and bones to make themselves appear to be someone else - this is how the changling fools the parents of the stolen child. Henry becomes part of their wild clan, running though the forest and hiding from the humans and not aging. They teach him forget his previous life and live without memories, existing only in the present.

The band that has taken Henry has 12 members, of which Henry is the newest (though not necessarily the youngest physically.) Speck was just 5 when the hobgoblins replaced her, while Beka was nearly a teenager. Each hobgoblin moves up the seniority chain - the one who has been with the band the longest is the hobgoblin that gets to assume the life of the next child that they kidnap. The replacement rate is slow, the band loses and gains one member perhaps once per decade. Once a child is targeted, the stealthy hobgoblins spy on the family, learning names, behaviors, and everything necessary for making a successful switch. There is an interesting section of the story where the band watches young Oscar Love, so that Igel (the current leader of the hobgoblins) can assume his position. But that switch goes awry...

Meanwhile, the other chapters deal with the new "Henry Day" pretending to be returned to his family after a traumatic night spent lost in the woods. Gradually, he loses his ability to mold his features, to hear over great distances, to see in the dark - the new Henry solely reverts back to being a human. At first, "Henry" must remember to make himself age, (he forgets that at puberty he should grow hair on his body) but eventually he returns to being fully human - but he does not forget his decades running wild in the woods. Indeed, he remembers all the way back to his original childhood in the 19th century, when he was a young son of German immigrants.

The new "Henry" rediscovers his old love of piano playing (something the original Henry had no aptitude for), and convinces his new parents that he needs lessons. His father is suspicious about the sudden changes in his son ("Were his fingers always that long?" he whispers to his wife, unaware that "Henry" has remarkable hearing.) but can do nothing.

There are several things that I liked about this book. One is that the hobgoblin children living in the woods are believable - Donohue does such a good job of portraying the hobgoblin lifestyle that it almost seems plausible to the reader. The children of the hobgoblin band are nicely developed, the struggles and adventures are interesting.

I also like watching the new "Henry" try to assimilate into the strange human lifestyle. He is baffled by a lot of behavior at first, and always struggles with the fear that his secret will be revealed. He is always on the lookout for the hobgoblin band, especially when he has a child of his own.

Overall this is a interesting novel, with unique story and interesting characters. Recommended!