You know how it goes. You wake early, feeling unwell. You want something to read while you wait to see if you can fall back asleep, so you go to the shelf and pick something out. Probably nothing too challenging, maybe a reread. Just something fun to pass the time with.
I picked Take A Thief.
Take A Thief is a standalone in the Valdemar series following the coming of age of Skif, a prominent side character in other stories. If you guessed that Skif is a thief for most of this book, then full marks to you. We meet him as an orphan living in poverty with an abusive uncle, conducting very petty crimes to be more comfortable; he ends the book a Herald of Valdemar, using his skills for the good of country and society; but most of it’s about Skif being a thief.
That’s an action type that Lackey handles well. Most of the attention is on Skif sneaking across rooftops before doing a spot of light breaking & entry but she covers some minor cons and pickpocketing too. A grump might reflect that Lackey might have been a bit too in love with her research, a purist might ask if the forms of thievery and organisation really fits Valdemar’s semi-medieval/renaissance setting (it does feel rather Oliver Twist at moments), but I am not those things today. I was having too much fun to care.
If the lawbreaking is the action, then the narrative structure comes from Skif’s own internal journey. After all, thieves, even if driven by a lack of options in the battle to survive, are rarely the obvious choices for a divinely picked order of altruistic heroes. We see from the beginning that Skif has a good heart, but there’s a difference between that and being a Herald. It’s a bit of a bumpy journey – he only really starts to think like a Herald when made one, which makes sense but results in a bit of a jump – but it’s interestingly enough done, particularly when tragedy strikes Skif and he starts looking for revenge. Watching Skif sign up to fight the good fight with the help of divine selection is heartwarming. Watching Skif hit emotional heights and lows, experience new things and tinker with new ways of thought, is good shit.
Something else Lackey does a good job on is showing a relatively gritty version of poverty. It’s not the grittiest, darkest version of reality you’ll see – it never would be in Valdemar, even if Lackey likes to show a dark edge to her near utopia – but neither is it romanticised, or shown as being without victims. On the contrary, there are victims everywhere. I don’t think the story would work as well if this wasn’t the case.
There is one small interesting wrinkle that I thought I’d mention, particularly since I picked Lackey partly as part of the Woman in SFF thing. There might honest to Dagda be a whole two female characters with speaking lines in this book. It’s very about Skif being in male social groups – dealing with his Uncle’s and Cousins abuse; running with the Twist-esque gang; bonding with his mentor. It honestly might have the least lines of female dialogue in any book I’ve read. It’s an odd choice, particularly from a female author who liked to run a ton of female characters. I don’t think Lackey does anything interesting with the all male cast. It didn’t particularly affect my entertainment, but it’s worth mentioning.
That aside, Take A Thief is an interesting little slice of thiefy fantasy that does exactly what it says on the tin.