I never gave this book to my children until they were adults. I would not even have read it to them when they were small. Boy in Darkness can be legitimately slated from all sorts of literary viewpoints -- the story-line is rather meandering, we could have done with some more indication of how the empire of the mines went into decline and of where the Lamb came from in the first place, the writing would have benefited from revision here and there and so forth. But gripping -- yes, and some! This is a raw nightmare, and maybe all the more effective for lack of finish in the craftsmanship. What it suggested to me was a perverted version of The Island of Dr Moreau, but I have no idea whether there was any direct influence or whether the resemblance is coincidental. The author was, to put it mildly, talented but mentally disturbed. The central character is obviously Prince Titus, but otherwise I find Boy in Darkness quite unlike the Gormenghast trilogy. I looked dutifully for symbolism and whatnot, but I soon gave up on that. Any hidden meanings are best left vague and undefined. The other three personae, or at least two of them, are probably based on people Peake knew, but the Lamb -- a woolly toy gone so horribly wrong that I nearly locked away the children's teddybears when I first read the book. It's not like Stephen King, it's not like Lovecraft (who I just love but who surely never frightened anyone). It's not like anything I know, even my own nightmares.
on 4 September 2011
This is an incredible story, very frightening and alien. Much of the fear is because we are not told all about what is going on, and the uncertainty adds to the apprehension. I'm not convinced that the boy is Titus; there are no clues either way, but I think it all seems more biblical than Groan. I thought the lamb was a kind of God, who ruled the land and was modifying the life forms for some unspecified reason. The battle between the boy and the lamb is very unsettling, and I was in my thirties when I first read it. I can't believe a publisher could have considered it suitable for children - there is very little of Peake's work that I would let a child read. I can only assume that those responsible had never read it. Someone should have their knuckles rapped!
on 30 January 2001
Boy in darkness is based on Titus Groan from Peake's masterpice, Gormenghast. It is very strange even surreal with it's half-animal, half-men characters.
The book is very original and a must for any Peake or Gormenghast fan. An unusual feature of the book is that Peake never mentions the boys name though it is quite obvious to anyone who has read the Gormenghast books that it is Titus the young Earl.
on 6 October 2012
Mervyn Peake ranks as one of my favourite authors of all time. His beautiful, descriptive prose sings again in this short story which initially takes us back to Peake's most famous creation, the vast castle of Gormenghast, where we find a young Titus already longing to be free of the stifling and pointless ritual of his home. So he sets out on what might be the darkest of his escapes from the castle. A truly fantastic, macabre tale follows, introducing some bizarre and very sinister characters. Will the Boy find his way back to the castle? And will he return unscathed (or unchanged)?
You don't need to have read any of Peake's other works to enjoy this book. But this is a wonderful return to a memorable character and even more memorable location, and the lucid and poetic descriptions familiar from the great Gormenghast books once again paint pictures that will probably never leave you.
Just a note - I have to agree with other reviewers that I think this book is totally unsuitable for children (in spite of the marketing for this edition). Some of the language may be rather too advanced. More importantly, some of the content is the stuff of nightmares - which is probably what your little-ones will be having if they read this.
For teenagers and adults new to Peake, this is a short, beautiful and chilling introduction to his work. For others it's a welcome return to his most original creation.
on 18 May 2001
I find it amazing that Boy in Darkness is being promoted as a children's book and has been reissued by a children's book publisher. Peake may be a major figure in 20th century English literature and there is no question that the Gormenghast Trilogy is a work of genius, but Boy is Darkness is a work that will absolutely terrify any normal child. I remember reading it at age 13 when it was published as part of the paperback Sometime, Never. I had never been so disturbed at terrified by anything in my life. Fans of Gormenghast will find that Boy in Darkness takes Peake's tendency to focus on the dark side of human nature to truly sick extremes. This is definitely not a children's book!