An orange house sits on top of greenery, with the steps of the house leading into a grinning face with long, sharp fangs. Text: "Clive Barker. The Thief of Always: A Fable."

KidLit Book Review: The Thief of Always by Clive Barker


Written and illustrated by horror maestro Clive Barker, The Thief of Always is the tale of Harvey Swick, a bright 10-year-old boy who is bored to tears, suffocated by “the great gray beast February” and desperate for anything that will cure his doldrums. Enter the ghastly grinning Rictus, an emissary from the mysterious Holiday House who appears in Harvey’s bedroom one night promising him a world of adventures where every morning is spring and every day is summer, where Halloween comes every dusk and Christmas comes every night. Harvey follows Rictus to Holiday House and falls under its spell, but he soon grows suspicious when he finds that questions are not welcome there. He investigates, discovering that Holiday House is home to an ancient evil and that leaving will be far more difficult than he could have imagined.


  • Title: The Thief of Always
  • Author/Illustrator: Clive Barker
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN: 0060177241
  • Publication Date: November 1, 1992
  • For Ages: 9-12 years
  • Category: Middle Grade
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.


I just discovered this book quite recently. I only knew Clive Barker from his decidedly more adult horror work, so I was shocked, frankly, to find that he had written a children’s book. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but what I found was a fantastic story that I wish I had discovered when I was in the book’s target age range. I know it would have been a favorite of mine. It has some wonderfully spooky moments, particularly during the Halloween scenes at Holiday House, and Barker’s illustrations are delightfully creepy:

At its core, though, this book is about love and connection; what makes The Thief of Always stay with you is not its spooks or its chills, but its heart. The most effective weapons in Harvey’s battle with the evil vampiric forces in the story are his loyalty, empathy, and selflessness. When I put the book down, I felt that bittersweet wave wash over me that bibliophiles of all ages will recognize: the joy of having finished a beautiful story and the sorrow of having no more of it to read.

Kids will relate to the unbearable boredom Harvey feels at the beginning of the book – adults will too, for that matter – and they will delight in Barker’s imaginative characters. (My personal favorite is Jive, Rictus’s sibling who is a perpetual-motion mass of constant “tics, jigs and jitterings.”) The scares are well-crafted and age-appropriate, and the love and friendship at the heart of the story will resonate with readers long after they’ve finished the last chapter.


Highly recommended – I give this book 5 out of 5 coffins.

5 Coffins

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