I kind of liked The Canvas Thief by P. Kirby…once I totally threw my disbelief out the window and treated the world of the book as if it were a cartoon world, which is just the way the main character, Maya Stephenson, created the hero and the villain. The underpinnings of the whole NeoVerse/EverVerse thing never gelled for me, but the breakneck pace of the story mostly carried me along, like Wile E. Coyote over the cliff, as long as I kept reading (running) and didn’t look down.
Maya Stephenson is an artist, with a gift. All artists have a gift, but Maya’s is special. She sees demons. That might be a little too special for most of us.
Maya knows that the world we live in has a few folks in it who are a bit odder than we think. However, Maya promised her mother that she would suppress her vision, and act normal. Because her Uncle Andrew could see the way Maya can, and Uncle Andrew wasn’t just “taken away”, but his family was made to forget him. The taking away part would have meant he was crazy, but the making people forget, that’s powerful stuff.
So Maya began channeling all her visions into her art. Except Maya didn’t draw what she saw. She was trying way, way too hard to be normal. Maya drew people. Since she was a teenage girl trying very hard to be normal, she drew boys. And she made up a story about them. A cops and robbers story. Adam Sayre was the cop, and Benjamin Black was the robber, the extra-talented thief.
Maya was so talented, and she concentrated so hard on making those drawings of Adam and Benjamin so perfect, that eventually Benjamin and Adam manifested from the NeoVerse to the Real. And because Maya’s magic created them in endless pursuit of one another, they remained tied to one another. For ten years, as Maya changed from girl to woman. And her fantasy men learned the ropes of the real world.
Benjamin Black lived and loved and lost. And decided he wanted to Fade from the Real to EverVerse, so that he might never lose anyone again. Adam Sayre learned to manipulate the system that, as a cop, he was supposed to be a protector of. Adam decided he wanted to stay in the Real forever.
Both Benjamin’s and Adam’s decisions required something from Maya to fulfill. Their ‘key drawings’. That first, perfect drawing that made them ‘real’. Benjamin tries to steal it, and Adam tries to manipulate Maya into it. Neither succeeds. Any woman strong enough to create life from the NeoVerse too strong for that.
But the collision course of their three lives changes everything. Maya discovers that the rules of ‘normalcy’ she has lived by are so, so unreal. Benjamin learns that being hurt once does not make him immune from being hurt again.
Escape Rating C: The story catches you up and keeps you in its grip, which is a really good thing, because the worldbuilding doesn’t quite hold up. I couldn’t make sense of the whole NeoVerse/EverVerse concept, and I decided to just go along for the ride. Unlike Wile E. Coyote, I chose not to look down after I ran off the edge of the cliff.
There’s a famous quote from Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit, or How Toys Become Real where the Rabbit asks “What is REAL?” and that kept coming back to me when I read this book. Maya never intended to make her characters real; she had no idea she had that power. When love enters the picture, as it does in The Velveteen Rabbit, the question of whether love is enough to make the man she loves ‘real’ enough to remain in the so-called real world becomes one of the big questions of the story.