Thursday, 26 May 2011

review: The Thief Lord

by Cornelia Funke
Chicken House, 2000
middle-grade fantasy

Detective Victor Getz has been hired to find a pair of children run away in Venise. Not too hard on an island, right? Only Bo and Propser don't want to be found -- Bo will be adopted by stiff, cruel Aunt Esther, and Prosper will be mailed off to boarding school. Scipio, a boy who calls himself the Thief Lord, keeps them safe in his Lost-Boys-esque gang along with Hornet, Riccio and Mosca. But Scipio isn't the Thief Lord he pretends to be, and Victor is hot on Prosper's and Bo's tail. Secrets shake loose and shatter when a major heist opens up an opportunity to Venice's most magical piece of history.
The cover:

The shimmering blue sets the right mood for a Venice story, though it may be a bit too stereotypical. I adore that little figure sneaking across the bridge, highlighted against the moon, but it brings to mind: why aren't there more people? Without the tourist population shown, the cover doesn't speak enough of the stealthy action in this book.

The book:

Originally written by Cornelia Funke in German, this English translation has the expected stilted prose, especially in dialogue. Her writing doesn’t falter in the setting, though. Little details here and there—the golden horses in St. Mark’s Square, the gondolieri by the bridge—help evoke the sense of the crazy-busy tourist-palooza that is Venice. (Seriously. Tourist-palooza.)

Each member in the Thief Lord’s gang has a distinctive personality: Riccio, the thieving-happy boy with hedgehog hair; Mosca, the black boy who loves tinkering with boats and devices; Hornet, a girl who loves books despite her uneducated past; and Scipio, the Thief Lord, whose upbringing makes him perhaps the one to be pitied most.

The turn into fantasy only occurs in the latter quarter of the book and may stump some readers, since the larger portion of the novel is firmly in the real world. Successfully twining history with magic also brings up an interesting theme or two. Throughout the story, Propser and Scipio both wonder if being an adult would equal a better life. Yet when they have the chance to grow old, they meet people who have chosen to reverse time instead of fast-forward it, making for some thought-provoking changes.

An amusing and satisfying end chapter acts as an epilogue, tying off each storyline neatly with a tongue-in-cheek last line linking back to the book’s beginning like every novel should.

Rating: 4 out of 5