Take a Thief
Oh, Take a Thief. I think this is the book that clued me into the fact that the newer Valdemar books just weren’t that good. This book has as much padding as a pine has needles. In fact, the first chapters are padding. And then the plot is padding. And then—screw it. This entire book is padding, padding out the Valdemar chronology to pad Lackey’s pocket. (Fairly; I’m glad she makes money writing. I just wished her editor would, y’know, edit.)
If you like Skif… you still might not like this book. I’ve always liked Skif, but I don’t like his backstory. It’s dull. The plot is rather uninspired, I don’t really believe the whole vengeance plot, we don’t spend much time with Skif burglarizing much. Which is sad, because that sounds like fun. This plot… kid thieves, vengeance, child snatching: this is Lackey-does-Oliver-Twist. Which is dull, sorry. Dickens could get away with detail overkill because Victorian England. But this book was published in 2001. Also, Valdemar isn’t 19th century London. That kind of complexity doesn’t come through. She writes all kinds of gritty details about how awful Skif’s life is, and really? That would be great… if it wasn’t heaps and heaps of filler with no real plot relevance. The tension does not come from the details. Skif is kinda meh about his life, and while he makes the choice to be a child thief, well… we don’t feel it. It feels mechanical, somehow.
BEYOND THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS
And even when Skif is struggling to avenge Bazie, his mentor, and the other boy-thieves, we always feel removed from him. There’s a huge psychological distance, even though the psychic distance is so close we get his thoughts in italics like these. Skif is a colourless automation running through the motions of plot. Wahoo. So riveting.
In fact, by the end, I don’t know why Skif was Chosen. I have no understanding of Cymry’s personality, or how they mesh. Which is odd, because she shows up in lots of books. She’s the only Companion so far that seems so…. empty. Yfandes? Maternal, fierce, playful. Kalira? Similar, only more girlish and gentle. Kantor? Big, tough jokester. From books not yet reviewed here: Rolan is imperious and randy; Sayvil is Savil, stubborn and tactless; Gwena’s an immature irritating know-it-all prick. (Yes, she’s female. She’s still a prick.)
What is Cymry’s personality? She seems to be a trickster: she ‘steals’ Skif. But she takes him… outside Haven? What? And seems kind of careless about it, what with breaking Skif’s nose and all. But then she’s just a generic Companion… who, you know, does Companion things. Yay?
Also, this book conflicts with Skif’s aforementioned backstory in the Arrows and Mage Winds books: of having been trained by his thief-mother. That sounded interesting and not a Dickens-ripoff.
Why couldn’t the information padding have been all about Skif actually thieving? We totally skip over all his thief training! And what’s up with him being the only recorded thief-Herald? In the Vanyel books, Savil is training Herald-Mages Mardic and Donni, one of whom (I can never tell them apart) is described as a ‘bright little apprentice-thief.’ Seriously, must all these later books have such painful chronology errors?
This book? Don’t read it unless you’re a die-hard Valdemar fan. It’s not as bad as Valor, but it’s awful dull.