The Thief Lord

by Cornelia Funke
reviewed by Kenny Brechner 

    Whether one is connected to the Harry Potter books as a reader, parent of a reader, publisher, distributor, or bookseller, one is keenly aware that two years, three months, two weeks and one day have passed since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. The pleasant anticipation which heightens a forthcoming experience has long since given way to less pleasant varieties of anticipation.

    Apart from long suffering readers, J.K. Rowlings’ U.S. publisher, Scholastic, has acknowledged that it is experiencing a serious financial shortfall as a result of the longer than anticipated gap between Potter books. Nonetheless, the related plights of all concerned have combined to produce one very markedly positive result.

    Young readers, attuned to the great pleasure of reading through the Potter experience, are hungry for something worthy to read. Parents are equally zealous to make sure that their children’s appetite for reading is sustained. Publishers, being more than eager to assuage that hunger, have scoured English and American literature for quality fantasy titles. Worthy authors, past and present, such as Edward Eagers and Eva Ibbotson, have benefitted substantially.

    As the delay between Potter titles has stretched on, publishers have taken thought to scour the globe for quality fantasy titles heretofore unsampled by the audience in question. Thus it was that Cornelia Funke, Germany’s foremost juvenile fantasy author, came to the attention of the Chicken House, a U.K. publisher, while Scholastic purchased the U.S. rights.

    Funke’s The Thief Lord was translated and released in the U.S. last month. One is struck immediately that The Thief Lord is a lovely book, its cover a backdrop of Venetian bridges made in shades of violet. The chapter headings are illustrated with finely wrought line drawings by the author, and the jacket promises "the magical underworld of Venice, Italy where crumbling rooftops shelter runaways and children with incredible secrets..."

    One is happy to report that the promise of a diverting and perhaps even sublime reading experience made on The Thief Lord’s behalf were not made falsely. The Thief Lord is an exceptionally well told story, its translation seamless, its characters compelling and deftly realized, and its mystery deep and evocative.

    At the heart of The Thief Lord is the question of taking the measure of adulthood and childhood through the inverse lens of their reflection in each other. The opinions of adults looking backward range from Oscar Wilde’s pronouncement that "adulthood is hell," to Ogden Nash’s gentler reflection that ‘you are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely." Children vary from longing for the independence and apparent power of adulthood and shunning the lack of the same.

    The Thief Lord is very close in character to E.L. Konigsburg’s classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler in its intermingling of precocious runaways with complex adults in whom childhood is sustained, along with mysterious art objects whose secrets link the characters together. Satisfying and subtle in her craft, Cornelia Funke will be a happy discovery for young readers and other concerned parties.