Book Review: The Thief Lord

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This novel traces the story of Prosper and Bo, two young boys who escape from their unfeeling aunt and uncle, who wish to adopt only one of them after their mother’s death.  Responding to their mother’s stories about the romance of Venice, they flee there to lose themselves on the wintry streets, and they join a gang of homeless children led by a boy who calls himself “the thief lord.”  What follows is a combination of The Wild Children and The Westing Game, with a dash of fantasy added in the form of a magical merry-go-round that can bring either youthfulness or adulthood.

The lighthearted way in which the author spins out her story is highly entertaining, although the characters are rather one-dimensional, and some dialogue is stilted and contrived.  Some plot developments are quite implausible (for example, when the aunt adopts an adult-turned-child, no government documentation is required for her to leave the country with him).  Still, the humor and the characters are gently endearing: when the children capture a softhearted detective, he persuades them to go feed his tortoises, and an artist who holds the key to the carousel’s mystery is so good-hearted that, after capturing the entire gang in the act of burgarizing her home, she joins in their search to solve the mystery.

One element of concern is that there is no healthy family depicted in any part of the story.  The detective and artist do provide an adult refuge  for some of the children (accompanied by the predictable budding romance), and the brothers’ relationship with one another is one of consistent loyalty and love.  But there is a clear sense in which the gang of street urchins form their own version of family in their abandoned theater, and they express great longing for their old “home” after they are evicted from it.  While much is made of the orphans’ lack of physical provision in terms of shelter and food, the real need of children to belong to a home with loving parents is entirely ignored.  Children who are attracted to alternative forms of community such as cliques and gangs will not be well served by this story.

Another possible concern is that the homeless children are forced to steal in order to survive.  While the primary characters do leave their life of theft when they come under the protection of the adults (and one is transformed into an adult), others prefer to remain thieves, and they all remain friends.

This book is a lighthearted fantasy which is obviously not presented as being grounded in the real world.  The loyalty and courage of the protagonists, combined with the imagination of the story line, makes it an entertaining read.  It could be enjoyed with caution by readers who are discerning, but ought not to be introduced to children who will not recognize its playfully unreal qualities.

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Publication Information: Funke, Cornelia Caroline. Thief Lord, The. . 2002. ISBN: 043942089X.
Categories: 2 Stars, Age 08-12
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Posted on June 30, 2009

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