Author: Stephen Deas
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Gollancz YA
Publication Date: August 2010
Paperback: 320 pages
Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the Fagin like master of their band. But there is a twist to this tale of a thief. One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves. He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren becomes his apprentice. And is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he thought he knew. Full of richly observed life in a teeming fantasy city, a hectic progression of fights, flights and fancies and charting the fall of a boy into the dark world of political plotting and murder this marks the beginning of a new fantasy series for all lovers of fantasy – from fans of Kristin Cashore to Brent Weeks.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series
How did we get this book: Review Copies from the publisher
Why did we read this book: Ana is a definite fan of author Stephen Deas – having reviewed and enjoyed his adult novels, The Adamantine Palace and The King of Crags (Thea promises to get on board with these two titles as soon as possible, too). So, when we learned of his YA fantasy debut, we were very excited to give it a read.
Thea: The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice was my first introduction to Stephen Deas – and I’ll say it’s a well-made acquaintance. This is one aptly told and engaging book, and I was able to enjoy it all in just about one sitting. Enjoyable characters and an action-filled plot (if light on the actual magical/fantasy element) make The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice smooth sailing – my only criticism being that there isn’t much to really distinguish this particular story from a morass of other pleasing, but ultimately bland young-ragamuffin becomes wizard/warrior/thief-taker/fill-in-the-blank novels.
Ana: Having read and enjoyed Stephen Deas’ adult books, I was looking forward to reading his first foray into the YA world. And I have to say: I really liked it, in fact, I liked it even more than his adult books. The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is indeed, very enjoyable, full of the sort of action I have come to expect from this author plus a couple of interesting characters and although I have to agree with Thea when she says that the book is not particularly outstanding, I still had a good time reading it.
On the Plot:
Thea: In the port city of Deephaven, young Berren (not old enough to be properly called a man, but certainly no child) survives as a deft thief. Working under the protection of boss Fagin, Berren is like many other orphaned boys in the city – ruthless, quick, and opportunistic. During a scheduled public execution of two thieves takes place in the city square, Berren eagerly pushes his way to watch the festivities – and instantly becomes fixed on the Thief-Taker. Publicly receiving 10 golden emperors as payment for his services, the temptation is too much for Berren to pass up, as he decides to follow the mysterious thief-taker and nab his purse. Easier said than done – especially when other, larger men have the same idea and are easily thwarted by the thief-taker and his magical abilities. Somehow, Berren is able to escape with the purse…only to find it filled with rust and worthless coppers. Even worse, when Berren returns to Fagin’s lair, he finds himself sold by his thief master to none other than the Thief-Taker himself. Forced into an apprenticeship with the moody, violent, yet fascinating Syannis, Berren comes to grips with his new life. Facing challenges from both without and within, Berren reluctantly accepts his new role – and when dire threat faces he and his new master, both thief-takers will be tested to their limits.
Plot-wise and writing-wise, Mr. Deas is a skilled storyteller, deftly moving the action along as young Berren struggles in his new position in life. With all sorts of obstacles thrown in his path – the most significant of which being his tumultuous relationship with new mentor Syannis – The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is an engaging, fast-paced read. That doesn’t necessarily translate to depth, though, and the biggest flaw with the novel is that as enjoyable as it is, ultimately The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is banal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, it’s a fun read, but there are a zillion youngsters searching for acceptance and making the journey of self-discovery with the stern but watchful help of an Intimidating Mentor. That said, I do think that Mr. Deas has undeniable skill as a writer. I loved that there is less a reliance on magic in this fantasy novel, and more a focus on the harsh reality of life in Deephaven. So…I’m a little divided on the issue!
Ana: There is no denying that Stephen Deas can weave a story and the book greatest strength lies in its central storyline and paced adventure. Much like this adult books, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice has short chapters and 99% of them from Berren’s point of view. I love the idea of Thief-Taking for example and how it is more about diplomacy than fighting skills although there is no shortage of great fighting sequences. Similarly, the world that the characters inhabit is interesting even though we have more quick glimpses than actual in-depth exploration, of political, religious and economical issues that shape Deephaven. I have to say, it intrigued me and I would have liked to know more. Perhaps to me, that is the biggest problem I had with The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice (which is similar to the problems I had with his other novels): that I was given morsels instead of mouthfuls that I could actually seek my teeth in.
On the Characters:
Thea: Characters concerned, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice does its best. Berren is your quintessential teen fantasy vagabond – reluctant, rough around the edges, but with a heart of gold (and some serious skills) beneath. Flawed enough to be sympathetic, yet strong enough to be inspiring, Berren is the perfect blend of vulnerability and ruggedness. And, the Batman to his Robin, Syannis is charmingly unpredictable. The relationship between Berren and Syannis is classic stuff – the curmudgeonly master with his trouble-prone apprentice is a classic trope, and one that Mr. Deas plays on with aplomb.
But…again, my only criticism is, there isn’t too much to set Berren apart from his predecessors (Harry P., Gen or Aladdin, for example). As enjoyable as this dynamic is, I can’t help but wish for a little more distinction. But, maybe that’s just me.
Ana: Instead of spreading the action into different point of views as before, this time around the author concentrates on one character and his journey and for a reader who prefers character-driven stories this should have been heaven. However, and you can colour me surprised, I ended up enjoying the storytelling, the writing, the plotting more than the characters’ journey. I think part of it does come from a degree of predictability emanating from the main character. When someone reads as much as Thea and I do, it is easy to come across the “quintessential teen fantasy vagabond” (love that, Thea) often. That is not to say that I didn’t like the characters and their relationship, because I did but there was nothing new in their dynamic. On their own, I actually liked Syannis as a character more than I liked Berren because as Thea says, he did have a certain degree of unpredictability as well as an intriguing back story, and that is perhaps another issue since the book is a YA novel and I ended up liking the adult character more.
One last note on female characters, because this is something that I am becoming more and more aware of. Deephaven is a very masculine world and there are very few female characters – oh I would so have loved to see a female Thief-taker, someone to kick Syannis’ ass – and the one secondary female character, is Berren’s love interest. She does have a mind of her own and her own moment to shine and I liked the execution of this character until the very end when she is of course, kidnapped by his enemy and used as bait which seemed like a shortcut to motivate the hero to be on his full on hero-mode and finally face his enemy.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: I enjoyed The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something more that I’m waiting for. I’m reminded of Philip Larkin’s criteria for book reviews, particularly the third and final question: If I care, what is the depth of that caring and how long will it last?. Ultimately, I don’t feel a depth of connection with The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice – I feel the pressing question, ‘so what?’ But that said, I do think there’s a lot of potential with this book – and I will be picking up more of Stephen Deas’ work in the future.
Ana: I liked The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice and enjoyed my time reading it (and there were truly brilliant moments there) but as you can tell, I had my share of problems with it. I have always said that I enjoy Stephen Deas’ novels and they have a lot of potential – I like his writing and his ideas. Three books in, and it feels as though I am still waiting to fall deeply in love with his books – the spark is definitely there, it just needs something else to ignite it.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The crowd had come to watch three men die. Most of them had no idea who the three men were. Nor did they particularly care. They’d come into the Four Winds Square for the spectacle, for a bit of blood, for an afternoon of entertainment. They’d come for the jugglers and the fire-breathers, the pie-sellers and the pastry-sellers, the singers and the speakers. They’d come for everything the city had to offer, and that’s what they got.
The thief ran through them with practised ease. The crowd barely noticed he was there. He slipped between the larger bodies around him like an eel between a fishermanâ€™s fingers, finding space where none seemed to exist. If anyone had asked him how old he was, he might have said twelve or he might have said sixteen, depending on who was doing the asking. The truth probably lay somewhere in between. The truth was that he didn’t know and he didn’t much care. He was small for a boy who might nearly have been a man, and his name was Berren.
He’d come for the executions like everyone else, but he’d come for the crowd too. A watcher, perched on one of the rooftops around the square and taking an interest in his progress, would have seen him pause now and then amid all his motion. Each pause marked the crowd as a fraction poorer and Berren as a token richer. The same watcher, if he stared for long enough, would have seen that Berren was slowly meandering his way towards the front of the crowd. When the executioner and his charges finally emerged, Berren had every intention of watching from as close as he could be.
After a time the crowd began to hush. At one end of the square stood a wooden platform, built especially for the occasion. For the last few hours, a succession of dancers and jugglers and other petty entertainers had paid for the privilege of using it and the crowd had largely ignored them, talking amongst itself. The coming of quiet meant a change. Berren began to worm his way further forwards. He was a head shorter than most of the crowd, and navigated by the simple expedient of watching where everyone else was looking, and then heading that way. Now and then, he caught a fleeting glimpse of the platform. A man in yellow robes was standing there, making slow gestures with his hands. Berren had an idea this made him a priest.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Thea: 6 – Good
Ana: 6 – Good
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Want to see for yourself what the book is all about? We have one copy to giveaway. To enter: leave a comment here telling us who is your fave “quintessential teen fantasy vagabond”, male or female. Contest is open to ALL and will run till Saturday August 14 11:59pm (PST). ONLY ONE ENTRY PER PERSON – multiple entries from the same IP address will be disqualified. Good luck! We will announce the winner in our next Sunday stash.