Take A Thief
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Published By: DAW Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In my quest to learn more about the intriguing land known as Valdemar, I recently picked up Take A Thief by Mercedes Lackey. The novel takes place just prior to the Heralds of Valdemar Trilogy (Queen Selenay’s reign) and centers about Skif, the mischievous herald trainee who befriends Talia in that series. When we meet Skif, he is an orphan, living under extremely harsh conditions in a tavern owned by his Uncle Londer. At a young age, Skif learns the art of being unseen, seeking to duck his cousin’s hard hand and the local authorities as he purloins food from Lord Orthallen’s table, right out from under his nose. Skif ekes out a miserable existence, dressed in rags, with barely enough to eat, struggling to avoid his cousin’s temper while trying to keep warm.
On one such occasion, hiding in a storage area at Lord Orthallen’s, he meets a thief of a different sort – one who takes items rather than food. Skif is intrigued and asks the other boy to teach him. He is brought before Bazie, a professional thief whose handicap earned as a mercenary in the Tedrel Wars, forced him to become a teacher of thieves. Skif learns all he can from Bazie, coming to live with him after being warned away from impending violence at his Uncle Londer’s tavern. The ways of a thief come easy to Skif, who has an uncanny cleverness about him. Bazie becomes not only a teacher and benefactor, but something of a surrogate father, sharing all he has with his “boys”. Skif flourishes in Bazie’s care, his stomach no longer grumbling from hunger, his clothes no longer a tattered mess.
Just as Skif becomes accustomed to his life with Bazie, tragedy strikes and his “family” is taken from him. Losing all he ever cared about in the world, and feeling terribly alone, Skif vows to avenge the death of his mentor and the young boys in his care. Discovering that the murder was conceived by a member of Valdemar’s wealth, Skif focuses all his energy on that sect. While wreaking havoc in the streets of the well-off citizens of Valdemar, he spots a horse standing untethered and unguarded. Skif decides that this horse must belong to a highborn and thus is a prize he cannot pass up.
His attempt to steal the horse is a tad misguided…or rather very well orchestrated – by the horse, that is. For the horse is a Companion named Cymry and she has chosen Skif to be the newest Herald of Valdemar. Of course, there is some shock at a Companion taking a thief as a Chosen One. However, Companions always choose someone that will be needed by the ruler of Valdemar at one time or another. What use would the Queen have for a thief? One must read the novel to find out.
As always, Mercedes Lackey weaves another enjoyable tale filled with mystery and intrigue. Often times, using a thief as the hero of a novel can be a turn off to a reader. Skif, however, is a thief with a strict moral code and therefore becomes someone a reader can easily admire. The idea of street-urchin-makes-good is appealing to everyone. A sort of Cinderella tale with a few twists.
In every novel of the Valdemar series, Mercedes Lackey strives to impress upon the reader the differences between each Herald and their backgrounds. Stressing this point also sometimes calls for different accents. Skif starts off with a bit of a cockney flare, fraught with slang. His speech improves as his living conditions improve, first as an effort to blend in during “jobs”, and then as an effort to improve upon himself. Although this use of accents to create differences between the Heralds is understandable, Weaponsmaster Alberich’s accent is rather reminiscent of that of another teacher – Yoda. This tends to become annoying after awhile, but doesn’t take enough away from the story to make it less enjoyable.
Mercedes Lackey has a power over readers. After reading one novel, they simply want more. I believe it has something to do with characters that we are introduced to, but are not completely made acquaintances of. Alberich is one such character. We learn a bit about his past, but the thirst is not quenched and we want more. Luckily, there is a novel about Alberich’s rise to the ranks of Herald to quench that thirst. As long as Lackey continues to lure us in that vein, there will never be an end to the fantasies that so capture our attention. Take a Thief is a terrific addition to the novels of Valdemar and recommended to all who love the fantastic tales woven by the magic that is the prose of Mercedes Lackey.
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