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Cornelia Funke – The Thief Lord

February 9, 2009

15. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (2000)

Length: 352 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy (sort of – see the review.)

Started: 05 February 2009
Finished: 07 February 2009

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 November 2008
Verdict? Keeper, although it’ll probably get put in the backstacks.

Two orphans, living in
Venice, find a family
with a gang of kids.

Summary: Orphans Prosper and Bo are on the run – after their parents died, their horrible Aunt Esther wanted to adopt five-year-old Bo but not twelve-year-old Prosper, and fearing separation, they headed to Venice, a city that their mother had always described as being full of mystery and wonder. They quickly fall in with a group of street children – pickpockets and petty thieves, ruled over by the mysterious (albeit young) Thief Lord. But even so, their lives are far from stable – their aunt has hired a detective to find the children, and the Thief Lord has accepted a mysterious and dangerous commission to steal something far more valuable than anything they’ve stolen before.

Review: It would seem as though The Thief Lord has it all: an interesting plot, lots of loveable characters, a vividly-depicted setting, some nicely adventurous escapades, more than a few chuckle-inducing moments, and a heartwarming message about the nature of family and home. However, it’s clearly for younger readers than Funke’s Inkworld series, so readers looking for more of the same might be disappointed – the sensibility’s the same, but the story is less meaty even than Inkheart, and lacks the thematic oomph of the later books. It also straddles a weird divide between regular fiction and fantasy. For most of the book, I thought it was simply a regular heist adventure story, and then about 2/3s of the way in, there’s suddenly a magical merry-go-round (…yes, really.) It left me at a point where I’m uncomfortable calling it a fantasy novel, because it’s mostly not, but it also feels dishonest not to call it fantasy, because the the introduction of the fantasy elements are really jarring if you’re not expecting them. Overall, it was a fast and cute read, with lots of individually good elements, but it just never entirely gelled for me – although it did leave me really wanting to go back to Venice. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Middle-grade readers are probably going to enjoy this the most, or adults who are looking for a light diversion.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bending Bookshelf, Jandy’s Reading Room, Mindless Meandering, Scholar’s Blog Spoiler Zone, Blog of Small Things
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was autumn in Venice when Victor first heard of Prosper and Bo.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2009 8:28 am

    The plot does sound amazing.

  2. February 9, 2009 10:55 am

    For the longest time I keep putting off actually buying this. Maybe I’ll just borrow it and not necessarily soon :)

  3. February 9, 2009 1:43 pm

    I liked this one, but you’re right it’s definitely for a younger set than the Inkheart trilogy (her Dragon Rider is even younger – though fun).

    I found it hard to qualify it as a fantasy too. In fact, I was surprised to find it in the fantasy section of the book store. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but I guess the one element of magic kind of forces it there.

  4. February 9, 2009 2:00 pm

    bermudaonion – It is pretty interesting, but it does take several left turns partway through.

    Lightheaded – It would probably be better if you were actively in the mood for mid-grade fiction. I wanted something quick and light, but I guess not quite this quick and light. :)

    KT – I didn’t realize it was a fantasy until I got to that part, which is why it threw me so bad. But it becomes such a major element of the plot that I can’t say that it’s not a fantasy, either.

  5. February 10, 2009 1:15 am

    I really liked this, but the magical merry-go-round took me by surprise as well.

  6. February 10, 2009 8:39 am

    charley – I felt like either the magical merry-go-round needed to be dropped (which meant the plot would have had to be totally reworked), or there needed to be at least some hints of fantasy elements starting earlier on.

  7. February 10, 2009 6:01 pm

    This was the first book by Funke that I read, and I felt the same way about the fantasy element that you did. Then I figured that, maybe because it was in translation from the German and came from a different background, it might just be a culteral kind of thing, going against the formula like that. Or maybe not! You might want to consider watching the movie sometime. My family and I thought it was fun.

  8. February 10, 2009 6:07 pm

    darla – It’s next on my Netflix queue!

  9. February 10, 2009 10:17 pm

    it was a fast and cute read, with lots of individually good elements, but it just never entirely gelled for me

    I felt much the same. It was a decent read, but it hasn’t given me much desire to seek out more of Funke’s work. Everyone says that the Inkheart series is amazing, but my reaction to this one is holding me back.

  10. February 11, 2009 1:43 am

    Great review! I know I sometimes struggle with classifying those books that seem to fall into the middle of several genres. I like your description of if being sort of fantasy.

  11. February 11, 2009 11:10 am

    Memory – The Inkworld series *is* really great – at least the second and third ones are. (Inkheart itself is marginal; it’s good but still skewed a little young for me.) I really think Funke’s better when writing for an older audience – there’s more space for the story to spread out and the themes to develop into something interesting.

    Alyce – I was sort of worried that it would be too spoiler-y to bring up the fantasy elements, but I felt like I’d have enjoyed the book more had I known at least a little what to expect.

  12. February 16, 2009 8:54 pm

    I read this! It’s been awhile and I only vaguely remember it but I did like it. After I re-read Inkheart and the other Inks, I plan on reading and re-reading some of her others that I have read before.

  13. February 17, 2009 10:50 am

    Ladytink – Besides this, Dragon Rider, and the Inkworld series, does she have any other books that are available in English? Have you read any of them?

  14. February 19, 2009 11:46 am

    Well she does have a series for ages 9-12 (according to Amazon) called The Ghosthunters but I haven’t read it. There’s also another standalone novel called Igraine the Brave. has tons of information with book series in order and everything on thousands of authors. I don’t know what I would do without it!

  15. February 19, 2009 10:59 pm

    I reviewed a couple of the Ghosthunters books on my site (there’s a complete list of books if you scroll down the sidebar, if you’re interested). They are cute but I think they are more appealing to kids than adults compared with her other books. My kids and I have been listening to Igraine the Brave on CD and are enjoying it very much. It’s a fun magic-filled castle-under-seige fairytale, with a strong female protagonist, parents who’ve been turned into pigs, giants, knights, and all kinds of fun. For what that’s worth!

  16. February 22, 2009 6:15 pm

    Ladytink – Hmm, haven’t heard of either of those. Must investigate!

    Darla – I’ve been feeling a little glutted with kids/mid-grade fantasy recently, so I might take a pass on this for a while, but I’ll bear it in mind for the future.

  17. jack permalink
    September 20, 2009 8:22 pm

    how many times did you have to revise a book.
    in a book do you include life like experiences.

  18. November 6, 2009 3:13 am

    Hmm…I randomly picked up this book from the library.

    Looks like I am not going to like it too much. I found the Ink series itself a bit too childish, and if this is even lower grade than that… :(

  19. Alex Austin permalink
    August 31, 2011 6:55 pm

    I loved this book! It was the best book I read in five months!

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