I've been meaning to read Sarah Prineas' The Magic Thief since my friend's son recommended it to me last summer. But the upside of having waited is that now the second book in the series is already waiting for me. I've hastened to request the sequel from the library, because The Magic Thief is delightful. I read it in one sitting, and closed the book with a sigh of satisfaction.
The Magic Thief is a middle grade fantasy title, perfect for readers at the slightly younger end of the spectrum (say, 8-10 year olds), though with plenty to make older readers smile, too. Young Conn (he could be anywhere in age from 12 to 14 - he's not really sure) lives on the streets in the scruffy Twilight region of the city of Wellmet, making a living as a thief. Conn's life changes forever the night that he picks the pocket of a grouchy wizard named Nevery, and ends up becoming a Wizards's Apprentice. Nevery has returned to Wellmet, after 20 years of exile, to help stem an alarming decline in the magic that powers the city. Conn has the opportunity to rise above the disadvantages of his own background, and help save the city from ruin.
There is much to like about this book. Conn is an excellent character, plucky and resourceful, but decidedly rough around the edges. He lacks even basic knowledge of conventions, though he's a fast learner. It's a joy to watch him gradually win over the gruff Nevery, not to mention Nevery's taciturn bodyguard, Benet (who I adore). The book includes occasional excerpts from Nevery's journal, allowing the reader to see the different perspectives of Nevery and Conn on the same events. [In fact, Nevery doesn't even consider Conn to be his apprentice for quite a while - he sees him as a sort of underservant.]
The plotting in The Magic Thief is well done, with extensive use of cliffhangers to draw the reader forward. Prineas uses just the right amount of foreshadowing and clues, and ratchets up the tension for the book's dramatic climax. The setting is fully realized, filled with crumbling mansions, dark twisty streets, a powerful duchess, and scary minions. There are small pen and ink illustrations marking the start of each chapter, and enhancing the atmosphere of the book. There are even some secret messages, written in the Wellmet runic alphabet. The Magic Thief is a nice mix of suspense and fun.
But what really made The Magic Thief stand out for me was Sarah Prineas' use of language. I found myself wanting to read this book aloud (and was pleased to see that The Magic Thief was an honor title for the 2008 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award). Conn's voice is unusual -- irreverent, descriptive and poetic. Here are a couple of examples:
"It was a late night in the Twilight, black-dark as the inside of a burglar's bag. The streets were deserted. A sooty fog crept up from the river, and the alleyways echoed with shadows. Around me I felt the city, echoing and empty, desolate and dead." (Page 1-2)
"The wizard seemed to be looking ahead to the chophouse on the corner, but I caught a glimpse of his keen-gleam eyes, watching me from under the brim of his hat." (Page 5)
"Hmph," Nevery grunted. "We'll try it then. You may go, Benet." The muscle left the room, giving me an extra serving of glare before he went." (Page 75)
I would recommend The Magic Thief to any middle grade reader, but especially to fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Angie Sage's Magyk series. It would be an excellent choice for a family read-aloud, too. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: June 3, 2008
Source of Book: Library copy
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.