Sunday, August 16, 2009

Valdemar 13: Take a Thief (Lackey, M)

Rating: 4
Year: 2001
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

The 13th Valdemar book is lucky! Only 13 to go, unless I've mis-counted again. This stand-alone book tells the story of Herald Skif.

Skif is a little kid who lives in his uncle's lowest-of-the-low-end tavern in Haven. In this book and the two Alberich books that come before it, we get to see that Valdemar isn't really Utopia. There is a dark underbelly in Haven--the capital city--where lives of quiet desperation are the norm and life is cheap. At 10 years old, Skif is an accompished sneak-thief, disguising himself as a page to get food from the rich. Then he gets a chance to turn "pro" as part of a modest ring of three older boys and and old man, first stealing silk and other expensive fabrics, then picking pockets and cutting purses, and then walking the roofs at night.

His friends are murdered by an arsonist. Skif puts his skills to work to learn who the killer is and who hired him.

Then he finds a white horse and sets out to steal it....

Three in a row for Lackey. Like the two Alberich books, she's not writing in her "C-3PO" voice, with the attendant fussiness that goes with it. There's a disconnect, though, in the narrative "voice" that's telling the story as Skif sees it and his own internal voice--the narrative voice is Lackey's, and even though we're seeing things as Skif sees them, we're getting her descriptives and vocabulary, words that the minimally-educated child wouldn't use. Maybe it's just a nitpick.

There are also times when the kid speaks with a much less hick-like, more educated manner, but his thinking is still in broken Valdemaran. It's not clear whether Lackey's trying to show that he's smarter than he lets on--and if that's her intent, it seems like she could have tried it the other way around: better diction when he's thinking to himself, and deliberately-dumbed-down when he's speaking to others. One point off for the nitpicky stuff.

Another bonus: this book didn't drag. We get to the Big Crisis around page 150, but Skif isn't Chosen for more than 100 pages after. Why, oh freakin' WHY, couldn't Lackey have written this well in "Brightly Burning," just a year before?

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