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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The cool thing about this book is that it's a prequel to Lackey's very first Valdemar novel, Arrows of the Queen, which was published in 1987. Take a Thief is the childhood story of Skif, who first appeared in Arrows of the Queen as a street-smart student at the Herald's Collegium, and in subsequent novels as a courageous and philosophical protector of Queen Selenay. I've always wondered about Skif's mysterious past, and in this novel, Lackey ties all his loose ends together -- from his beginnings as an orphaned pickpocket to his fateful meeting with his magical equine companion, Cymry.
The atmosphere throughout most of the book is not unlike Stephen Crane's classic Maggie: A Girl of the Streets; it's brutally realistic. Skif is a ten-year-old orphan living a nightmare. He's basically a slave to his Uncle Londer Galko, who works him to the bone at his tavern in return for a place to sleep underneath a stairwell. The novel begins with Skif waking up to begin another day of work at the dirty Hollybush Tavern. "Skif's dreams shattered, leaving him with vague fragments of being somewhere warm, cozy and sweet-scented. A toe scientifically applied to Skif's rib cage with enough force to bounce him off the back wall of the under-stair cubby he called his own reinforced the otherwise incomprehensible order that he wake up."
Skif is beaten and abused regularly by his cousin Kalchan, the tavern's manager, and his only respite comes when he goes to Temple to learn how to read and write. During his few hours of freedom after Temple, Skif roams the streets looking for food to steal or a warm place to get some sleep. Having had to do this for years in order to survive, Skif has become very ingenious. While napping in the attic of a rich man's laundry house, he fatefully meets a young thief named Deek, who is in the process of robbing the place. Having no other option except to go back to the tavern to get beaten, Skif joins Deek's small gang of pickpockets and thieves.
Under the tutelage of the group's leader, Bazie, a legless old mercenary, Skif learns everything there is to know about thievery -- from pickpocketing to pawning to lock picking. Alone and homeless most of his young life, Skif finally has a place to call his own, and a family. Living with Bazie and his gang of young thieves, Skif is happy.
But everything changes when the building where Bazie and his gang are living is burned to the ground, and everyone inside is killed. Skif is heartbroken, but when he overhears that someone burned down the building on purpose, he vows to find out who was behind the murders and bring them to justice. As Skif investigates, he begins to uncover a much larger plot that includes an international child slavery ring and a plot against the Queen!
The great thing about this novel is that you don't have to know anything about the extensive history of Lackey's Valdemar before reading it. This is a stand-alone novel, and also makes a great introductory novel for fantasy fans that have yet to sample Lackey's Valdemar. For longtime fans of Lackey's series, this book will give you invaluable insight into the early lives of other key characters, including Talamir, Kris, Jeri, and Alberich, the weaponsmaster at the college. I'm hoping that Lackey continues this subseries, either focusing on another character's early life or continuing the exploits of Skif. (Paul Goat Allen)