Mercedes Lackey,
Take a Thief
(DAW, 2002)

It has been nearly 16 years since Mercedes Lackey's first Valdemar novel, Arrows of the Queen (February 1987). In that time, the world in which Valdemar is but a single country has become a rich and varied place full of all manner of wonderful folk, from the heroic Heralds of Valdemar to the legendary Hawkbrothers of the Pelagiris Forest and the gryphons of the deep south. One of the latest entries in the series, Take a Thief, is set five and ten years prior to Arrows of the Queen. Readers familiar with Valdemar will immediately guess the "thief" is none other than Skif, a mischievous rogue who will become both mentor and protector to Talia, the heroine of Arrows of the Queen.

Young Skif is the very personification of a hard-knock life. Since Skif is an orphan, his uncle, Galko Londer, is his guardian. Far from being a concerned and tender relative, Master Londer regards Skif as little better than a slave. Skif is required to work in his uncle's tavern, which is managed by Londer's equally unpleasant son Kalchan, for the chance to sleep under the tavern stairs. Fortunately for Skif, one of Queen Selenay's laws is that all children under a certain age must be provided with an education, which Skif cares little for, and breakfast, which he looks forward to eagerly since his cousin is not inclined to feed him. The youngster supplements his temple breakfast by sneaking into rich men's houses and stealing food.

One day, after filling his pockets with food from Lord Orthallen's dining room, he runs into another young thief who consents to take Skif with him and teach him how best to break into houses and pick pockets. The boy leads him to Bazie, a crippled ex-soldier who makes his living, Fagin-like, by running a small ring of boy thieves in the poor sections of Haven. In Bazie's home, Skif finds the friendship and acceptance he has craved all his life, until tragedy strikes and his new family is taken from him.

Once more alone, Skif vows vengeance and, despite his young age, sets about to get it. And he is well on his way to achieving it when he steals a pretty white horse left unattended in a city park and finds himself, after a wild ride through Haven and the surrounding countryside, the newest Herald-trainee.

The above Dickens reference is not an accident. This novel, in spots, has a very Dickensian atmosphere, especially with Bazie and his boys, though Bazie's motivations are not entirely the same as Fagin's (having been in my high school's production of Oliver some years ago, I'm familiar with that story).

The story takes place almost entirely within the bounds of Valdemar's court city, Haven, and not the nicer parts, either. Lackey brings the poorer quarters of Haven to vivid life, and makes it a place you definitely don't want to visit without several friends and a good, stout walking stick.

Skif's background has never been a secret, and this tale of how he became a thief and then a Herald is a welcome addition to the Valdemar series.

- Rambles
written by Laurie Thayer
published 25 January 2003

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