6 Rated Books Book Reviews Joint Review YA Appreciation Month 2010

Joint Review & Giveaway: The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice by Stephen Deas

Title: The Thief Taker’s Apprentice

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.


First Impressions:

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 fisherman’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

Reading Next: Plain Kate by Erin Bow


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.

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  • Sean Wills
    August 12, 2010 at 3:34 am

    This looks eerily similar to the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks, although possibly without the ‘high fantasy’ elements that comes into play in that series midway through the first book.

    Either that or I just haven’t read enough stories with teen fantasy vagabonds to make any other comparisons 😛 It’s not a genre I’m drawn to.

  • Rachel Randall
    August 12, 2010 at 5:22 am

    Definitely interested as I do love the “fantasy vagabond” genre.

    Locke Lamora is my fav, though I always had a YA love for Skif from the Valdemar books.

    And *are* there lots female teen fantasy vagabonds? Can anyone rec some?

  • Sandy G
    August 12, 2010 at 6:54 am

    I’d have to go with Skif from the Valemar books since I haven’t really read any YA vagebond books.

  • Kimberly B.
    August 12, 2010 at 7:51 am

    I’m going to go old school, i.e. the fantasy novels that were out when I was a teen & obsessed with vagabonds. So it’s a tie between Jimmy the Hand from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga and Shadowspawn from the Thieves’ World series.
    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  • blodeuedd
    August 12, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Can I take Yelena from Poison Study? She may not be a total vagabond, but she gets there later :=)

  • John
    August 12, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Briar from Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic books!! Those things are some of my personal favorites, and Briar is a cool vagabond because of his abilities to work with plants. ^.^ While the books aren’t centered around him or any of the other three main characters, he’s important and very easy to remember.

  • Amelia P.
    August 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Hmm. My favorite teen vagabond would have to Cat from Joan D. Vinge’s ‘Psion’, ‘CatsPaw’, and ‘Dreamfall’. I loved his tenacity and character growth throughout the trilogy.

  • morganne
    August 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Gen! I love those books. They’re funny and amazing.

  • danielle
    August 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    would it be terribly cliche’d to say Aladdin?

    how about all the characters in She-Thief?

  • martin
    August 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    This book seems like something I would really enjoy beause it looks to me like it will have a similar mood and character scheme as the Rangers’ Apprentice series. Would really like to get this book please!

  • Elizabeth
    August 12, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Definitely Eugenides! Nothing quite like a loveable thief with an insult for every occasion. I have to confess a soft spot for the “quintessential teen fantasy vagabond.” What a perfect way to phrase it 🙂

  • Carol Thompson
    August 12, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Hmm !

    I can’t think of any really except the already mentioned Jimmy the Hand from the city of Krondor who ends up running the whole city.

    Thanks for the giveaway.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  • Ria (Tea and Tomes)
    August 13, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Looks like there are a lot of votes for Skif so far, and yeah, I think I’ll have to put mine in the same way. He’s got the kind of rough charm that makes him appealing whether he’s on the streets or in his Whites, doesn’t take crap from anyone and is creative about his revenge, and yes, I confess I like the “heart of gold” motif that runs through all Heralds anyway. :p

  • Anonymous
    August 13, 2010 at 6:14 am

    @ 2 – if you’re looking for female vagabonds, there’s always Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy.

  • Brittany Landgrebe
    August 13, 2010 at 7:18 am

    @9 – danielle – I totally thought Aladdin! lol

    I’d go with Roran, from The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. He wants nothing to do with all the stuff Eragon is in, he just wants to keep Katrina safe. And he’ll do anything, including fighting a war for her.

    Girl vagabond? Hrm… I don’t know if it’ll quite fit, but what about Astrid from RAMPANT by Diana Peterfreund? She doesn’t want to be a unicorn hunter, she wants to be a scientist. But she does it anyway, because her friends are getting hurt and [spoiler spoiler spoilery spoiler]. 😛

  • Mary
    August 13, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Have to say Clary Fray from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. Kept me and my friends interested through the series.

  • Celia
    August 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Hmm…I seem suddenly brain dead. Must be because it’s Friday afternoon and I’m at work. I’ll go with Vin in Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

  • Stephanie
    August 13, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Ahh…Eugenides Eugenides Eugenides!

    Though if I traveled back in time to when I actually was a YA, it would probably be Meliara from Crown Duel/Court Duel. Or Landen from The Seer and the Sword. I freaking LOVED those books when I was in middle school. Still do. It’s kinda like comfort food in book form.

  • Jacqueline C.
    August 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Mine would definitely be Katniss from The Hunger Games trilogy.

  • pomot
    August 14, 2010 at 12:27 am

    @Brittany: But Roran really isn’t a vagabond, as such. He was forced into chasing Katrina and now he’s fighting in a war. A vagabond – as I understand it – is more of a drifter or a rogue, not somebody who ordanarily lives in a quaint farming town.

  • Chas @ LLL Reviews
    August 14, 2010 at 2:06 am

    Wow!! This one sounds fantastic. Brent Weeks is on my TBR list so when I read his name I was excited!!

  • Sparkles
    August 14, 2010 at 2:17 am

    Cery from the Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan though I’m not sure he classifies as a vagabone 😕 so I would say Farid from the Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke 😀 Thank you for the giveaway :mrgreen:

  • Llehn
    August 14, 2010 at 6:45 am

    Christophe from Strange Angels.

  • Deirdre
    August 14, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I’d be another person rowing behind Skif in Mercedes Lackey’s Herald Series or Briar in Tamora Pierces series.

  • Eileen
    August 14, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I like “The Thief Lord” in the book by Cornelia Funke! Thank you for the giveaway!

  • Misha Mathew
    August 14, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    MY favorite vagabond has to be Roran from Eragon series.

  • A round up of book giveaways 15 August 2010 | Read in a Single Sitting - Book reviews and new books
    August 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    […] The Thieftaker’s Apprentice by Stephen Deas giveaway (world) […]

  • Eva SB
    August 17, 2010 at 12:04 am

    My mind has gone a blank for earlier examples but I would say Rue from The Hunger Games.


  • Back (17/8/2010) | Stephen Deas
    August 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    […] a few new reviews kicking about. One from The Booksmugglers for The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice. Some “truly brilliant moments” aside, I can’t help but smirk a little when […]

  • The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice (due August 2010) | Stephen Deas
    August 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    […] “truly brilliant moments” for The […]

  • Stephen Deas
    August 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    A little taster for book 2: Your female character who kick’s Master Sy’s butt. Can’t promise this exact scene will stay, but the character will.

    For a third time, the sword-monk flew at Master Sy. The air rang with the sound of wood striking wood as Tahsare battered Master Sy slowly backwards. Every second, one sword or the other seemed to come within a whisker of striking home. Berren had seen Master Sy do this before, let himself be pushed back; he waited, holding his breath, for the time when the thief-taker would step sideways instead of backwards, flick his wrist and end the fight.

    He did exactly that. Except Tahsare’s sword was somehow in the way. She blocked his lunge. For a moment they were so close they were almost touching. Quick as a snake, the sword-monk punched Master Sy in the face with the other hand. Squarely on the nose. Master Sy jumped back, blood streaming down his face; the sword-monk went straight after him. She came low, lunging at his hips; Master Sy twisted away, but there was a desperation to the way he moved this time. The sword-monk scooped up a handful of sand as she rose, and threw it at the thief-taker’s face. As he turned and raised his guard to protect his eyes, the practice sword caught him a thumping blow in the ribs. A clear win. Master Sy staggered again. His guard dropped.

    The sword-monk didn’t stop…

  • Can I have a Young Adult please? (24/8/2010) | Stephen Deas
    August 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    […] “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.” (from the Booksmugglers) […]

  • Anonymous
    October 7, 2010 at 4:23 am

    😈 😈

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