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Take a Thief (Heralds of Valdemar Series #5)

Take a Thief (Heralds of Valdemar Series #5)

4.6 89
by Mercedes Lackey

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Mercedes Lackey's triumphant return to the best-selling world of Valdemar, Take a Thief reveals the untold story of Skif--a popular character from Lackey's first published novel, Arrows of the Queen.

Skif was an orphan who would have died from malnutrition and exposure if he had never met Deke the pickpocket.  By the time he was twelve, Skif was


Mercedes Lackey's triumphant return to the best-selling world of Valdemar, Take a Thief reveals the untold story of Skif--a popular character from Lackey's first published novel, Arrows of the Queen.

Skif was an orphan who would have died from malnutrition and exposure if he had never met Deke the pickpocket.  By the time he was twelve, Skif was an accomplished cat burglar.  But it wasn't until he decided to steal a finely tacked-out white horse, which was, oddly enough, standing unattended in the street, that this young thief discovered that the tables could turn on him--and that he himself could be stolen!

Editorial Reviews

The 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)

Young Skif is an orphan living with a cruel cousin in the ghettos of Valdemar. His cousin gives him shelter—a space on the floor—but not much more, so Skif is forced to rely on his wits and skills as a thief. While out stealing food one day, Skif runs into another young thief and is introduced to a gang of pickpockets and house thieves. The gang becomes the family Skif has never known and provides him with the food and shelter his cousin did not. Everything goes along well until Skif reaches the age of twelve and loses his thieving family in a mysterious fire. Armed with his anger and grief, he sets out to avenge his adopted family and gets mixed up in far more than he imagined. Readers familiar will recognize Skif from previous works, but they will not find a typical Valdemar tale of magic and fantasy here. A prequel of sorts, this previously untold story is a good introduction to the rest of the tales. Knowledge of the series is unnecessary to appreciate this particular novel but would enhance the experience. The story moves quickly and easily, although at times Skif's dialect is a little difficult to understand. Some aspects of the story are a bit unbelievable—Skif happens to fall into a gang of thieves that treat him better than his own family did—but these details do not detract too much from the overall story. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, DAW, A/YA351p, $24.95. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Jennifer R. Rice SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
Skif is an orphan making do, sleeping under the stairs in his uncle's tavern in Haven, until he meets a band of pickpocket/ thieves. The leader, Bazie, a cripple from the Tedrel Wars, teaches Skif to be a fair pickpocket but soon realizes Skif's real gift is as a cat burglar. Then Skif "steals" a finely tacked white horse, the companion Cymry. Skif is now among the Chosen, a Herald trainee, at a time when the kingdom most needs a spy with his prowess at getting into places without being seen or heard. For fans of the series, this will be a must read. I have one seventh-grade girl who just finished the Owlflight series who is waiting with bated breath for me to finish this review so she can get her hands on the book. This is every bit as compelling as the Owlflight series. (A Novel of Valdemar, Reign of Selenay). KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, DAW, 435p., Hoy

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Valdemar , #5
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No matter how comfortable he was, Skif slept like a cat, with one eye open and one ear cocked, in case trouble stole upon him, thinking to catch him unaware. So even though he didn't know what woke him, when he woke, he came alert all at once, and instead of jumping to his feet, he stayed frozen in place, listening.

Wood creaked slightly, somewhere in the loft. Was it a footstep? The sound came again, a trifle nearer, then fabric brushed against something harder. There was someone up here with him.

Now, it wouldn't be one of the laundry servants on proper business; they came up the stair, clumping and talking loudly. It might be a servant or a page come up here to nap or escape work-if it was, although Skif would have a slight advantage in that the other wouldn't want to be caught, he had a profound dis-advantage in that he didn't belong here himself, and the other could legitimately claim to have heard something overhead and gone to investigate. If that was the case, he'd be stuck under this tub until the other person left.

It might also be something and someone entirely different-a thief, who wouldn't want to be found any more than Skif did, who might flee, or might fight, depending on the circumstances, if Skif came out of hiding.

He didn't know enough yet; better to wait. It was highly unlikely that the other would choose Skif's particular tub to hide himself or anything else underneath. It was out of the way and smallish, and Skif had chosen it for precisely those reasons. Instead, he peered under the edge of it, as the surreptitious sounds moved closer, thanking his luck that it wasn't dusty up here. Now would be a bad time to sneeze.

It sounded, given the direction the sounds were coming from, as if the unknown had gotten into the loft the same way that Skif had, through the gable window at the end. Skif narrowed his eyes, waiting for something to come into his area of vision among the slats of the wooden tubs. The light was surprisingly good up here, but the sun was all wrong for Skif to see a shadow that might give him some notion of who the other intruder was. The creaking gave Skif a good idea that the fellow moved toward the stairs, which meant he was at least thinking of using them to descend into the laundry itself. That wasn't an option Skif would have chosen-unless, of course, the fellow was a thief, and was planning on purloining something from the laundry itself. There was plenty of stuff to steal in there; silk handkerchiefs and scarves, the embroidered ribbons that the young ladies of the household liked to use for their necks and hair and the young men liked to give them, the gossamer veils they wore in public-all light, easy to carry, presumably easy to sell. The only reason Skif hadn't helped himself before this was that he didn't know where to dispose of such things and was not about to share his loot with Kalchan.

A foot slid slowly into view; not a big foot, and most importantly of all, not a foot clad in the soled sock of a page or liveried indoor servant. This was a foot in a half-boot of very flexible black leather, laced tight to the ankle and calf, much worn and patched, not much larger than his own, attached to a leg in rusty black trews with worn places along the hem. This foot, and the person who wore those trews, did not belong here. No one in Lord Orthallen's service wore anything of the sort.

Skif made a quick decision, and struck. Before the other knew he was there, Skif's hand darted from under the tub, and Skif had the fellow's ankle held fast in a hand that was a lot stronger than it looked.

Skif had half expected a struggle, or at least an attempt to get free, but the owner of the ankle had more sense than that-or was more afraid of the attention that the sounds of a struggle would bring than anything Skif could do to him. So now, it was the other's turn to freeze.

Skif mentally applauded his decision. He thought he had a good idea of what was going through the other fellow's mind. Now, the arm that Skif had snaked out from beneath the tub was clad in a sleeve that was more patch than whole cloth. So Skif obviously didn't belong here either, and the two of them were at an equal advantage and disadvantage. For either to make noise or fuss would mean that both would be caught-and no point in trying to claim that one had seen the other sneak over the wall and followed to catch him either. An honest boy would have pounded on the back entrance to report the intruder, not climbed up after him. No, no-if one betrayed the other, both of them would be thrown to the City Guard.

So the other fellow did the prudent thing; he stayed in place once Skif let go of him so that Skif could slip out from under the tub. Like it or not, for the moment they were partners in crime. Skif, however, had a plan.

There was a moment when the other could have tried to knock Skif out and make a run for it, but he didn't. Such an action would have been noisy, of course, and he still might have been caught, but with one unconscious or semiconscious boy on the floor to distract those who would come clambering up here, he might have been able to get away. Skif breathed a sigh of relief when he was all the way out from under the tub and was able to kneel next to it, looking up at the interloper.

What he saw was a boy of about fifteen, but small for his age, so that he wasn't a great deal taller than Skif. His thin face, as closed and impassive as any statue's, gave away no hint of what he was thinking. His eyes narrowed when he got a good look at his captor, but there was no telling what emotion lay behind the eyes.

His clothing was better than Skif's-but then again, whose wasn't? Skif wore every shirt he owned-three, all ragged, all inexpertly patched by his own hands, all faded into an indeterminate brown-with a knitted tunic that was more hole than knit over the top of it all. His linen trews, patched as well, were under his woolen trews, which for a change, had been darned except for the seat which sported a huge patch made from an old canvas tent. This boy's clothing was at least all the same color and the patches were of the same sort of material as the original. In fact, unless you were as close as Skif was, you wouldn't notice the patches much.

He had long hair of a middling brown color, and a headband of dark braided string to keep it out of his eyes. His eyes matched his hair, and if he'd been fed as well as one of the page boys his face would have been round; as it was, the bones showed clearly, though not nearly as sharply defined as Skif's.

There were other signs of relative prosperity; the other boy's wrists weren't as thin as Skif's, and he showed no signs of the many illnesses that the poor were prone to in the winter. If he was a thief-and there was little doubt in Skif's mind that he was-this boy was a good enough thief to be doing well.

The two of them stared at each other for several moments. It was the older boy who finally broke the silence.

"Wot ye want?" he asked, in a harsh whisper.

Until that moment when he'd seized the other's ankle, Skif hadn't known what he wanted, but the moment his hand had touched leather, his plan had sprung up in his mind.

"Teach me," he whispered, and saw with satisfaction the boy's eyes widen with surprise, then his slow nod.

He squatted down beside Skif, who beckoned to him to follow. On hands and knees, Skif led him into the maze of tubs and empty packing crates until they were hidden from view against the wall, next to the chimney.

There they settled, screened by stacks of buckets needing repair. From below came the steady sounds of the laundry, which should cover any conversation of theirs.

"Ye ain't no page, an' ye ain't got no reason t'be in the wash house. Wot ye doin' here?" the boy asked, more curious than annoyed.

Skif shrugged. "Same as you, only not so good," he replied. He explained his ruse to get fed to the boy, whose lips twitched into a thin smile.

"Not bad done, fer a little," he acknowledged. "Noboddie never pays mind t'littles. Ye cud do better, though. Real work, not this pilferin' bits uv grub. I kin get through places a mun can't, an ye kin get where I can't. We might cud work t'gether."

"That's why I want ye t'teach me," Skif whispered back. "Can't keep runnin' this ferever. Won' look like no page much longer."

The boy snorted. "Won't need to. Here, shake on't." He held out his hand, a thin, hard, and strong hand, and Skif took it, cementing their bargain with a shake. "M'name's Deek," the boy said, releasing his hand.

Skif was happy to note that Deek hadn't tried to crush his hand in his grip or otherwise show signs of being a bully. "Call me Skif," he offered.

Deek grinned. "Good. Now, you stay here-I come back in a tick, an' we'll scoot out by th' back t'gether." He cocked his head down at the floor, and it was pretty clear that there wasn't anyone working down in the laundry anymore. It was probably time for supper; the laundresses and some of the other servants ate long before their betters, and went to bed soon after sundown, for their work started before sunrise.

Skif nodded; he saw no reason to doubt that Deek would play him false, since he was sitting on the only good route of escape. He and Deek made their way back to Skif's tub; Skif ducked back inside, and Deek crept down the stairs into the laundry.

Deek came back up quickly, and the quick peek of silk from the now slightly-bulging breast of his tunic told Skif all he needed to know. As he had expected, Deek had managed to slip downstairs, purloin small items of valuable silk, and get back up without anyone catching sight of him. As long as he took small things, items unlikely to be missed for a while, that weren't such rare dainties as to be too recognizable, it was quite likely that the owners themselves would assume they'd been mislaid. No specially embroidered handkerchiefs, for example, or unusual colors of veils. He beckoned to Skif, who followed him out over the roof, both of them lying as flat as stalking cats as they wiggled their way along the tiles, to minimize the chance of someone spotting them from below. From this position, they couldn't see much; just the lines of drying linens in the yard, the tops of bushes past the linens that marked the gardens, and the bulk of the magnificent mansion beyond. If anyone looked out of the windows of the mansion, they would be spotted.

Not likely though.

—from Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey, Copyright © October 2001, Daw Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission

Meet the Author

Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the best-selling Heralds Of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots. She can be found at mercedeslackey.com.

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Take a Thief (Heralds of Valdemar Series #5) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 89 reviews.
Twinleader56 More than 1 year ago
This tells the story of Skif. He grows up a thief, but just to survive and help those who took him in. When he is chosen he thinks the companion made a mistake, and insists that heralds are all good and why would they want a thief. His companion sees the good in him, and says who can say that the queen might not need his special talents at some point. Skif shows up in several of the Heralds of Valdemar books, so it was nice to finally be able to read his back story. How his companion chooses him was so funny I couldn't stop laughing. This is a stand-alone book, even though a lot of her Valdemar books are trilogies. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a replacement for the hardback I lost when I moved. I now have every book in Lackey's Valdemar series, and I re-read the books often - a great escape from the real world.
Ariam 4 months ago
The amazing backstory of the thief-turned-Herald Skif who plays such an important part in the Valdemar universe during the reign of Queen Selenay! This book is everything you'd hope for in the telling of one the Herald's most infamous and often troublesome young man. A hard life for young Skif on the streets of the slums of Valdmar's outer city makes Skif fend for himself against abuse and starvation. When his luck seems to be changing, the unthinkable happens that throws his whole world into turmoil and has him bent on revenge. Funny, intelligent, and full of twists and turns this is easily on of the best novels in the Valdemar series. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good character building tale
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite Val. Tales
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorites. Have read it many times over.
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Sad but amazing
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Im looking for book 4 in her valemer series. Im a huge fan of hers and i plan on owning and enjoying all her books. Especiallyvthe valedmer series.
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