Release date: UK paperback April 2011
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Gollancz
The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is a tale of bounty-hunters and thieves set in a historic fantasy world. It’s not your fantastical creatures or special power type of fantasy, more an alternate world with temples, priests and the occasional witch doctor.
Berren is a teenage dung-sweeper and pickpocket. He is one of Hatchet’s boys and lives a miserable life in Shipwrights by the docks. He shares a rotten floor with a lot of other unwashed boys, eats scraps of stale bread and basically stinks of fish and poop! Berren has a simple ambition: he wants to make money. He does this by cutting purses. He feels no guilt about his thieving. It doesn’t weigh on his conscience. When there is a public execution in the centre of town, he goes to watch like all the other boys. He enjoys seeing the blood as the guilty have their heads chopped off but it is the lure of ten gold Emperors, which the Thief-Taker has earned, that really gets his blood pumping. All that lovely money! Berren is determined to cut the Thief-Taker’s purse. He thinks that such a glorious sum could change his life forever. So he spends the rest of the day looking for the Thief-Taker and of course goes about his thievery.
It won’t surprise you to find out that Berren becomes Master Sy’s apprentice. I think it comes as a surprise to both of them though. At the beginning of the novel Berren has a rather romanticised idea of a thief-taker’s work. He thinks it’s all swashing buckling and sword-fights. The story follows Berren as he begins his education into what it takes to be a bounty-hunter. It requires patience, investigative skills and intuition. But there’s no denying that it is also a very violent profession.
Both Berren and Master Syannis are great characters. Convincingly written, Berren is as lustful as any teenage boy. Deas portrays him as courageous whilst still being naive and motivated by money and power. The reasons behind Master Sy’s offer of an apprenticeship are mysterious and seem to hint at an intriguing secret to be revealed in the future. It is the relationship between Berren and Master Sy that really make this book a joy to read. It leapt off the page through the dialogue and the grudging respect that Berren feels for his Master without ever him ever actually verbalising it. Their connection was endearing. (I don’t think they’d appreciate me saying that though).
The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is the first book in a series but it is still a satisfying story and doesn’t end on an annoying cliff-hanger. I think boys who enjoy fantasy but have outgrown a series like Spooks by Joseph Delaney will enjoy this. It had a boy-sy feel – I guess because of the descriptions of beheading etc. But the violence isn’t at all gratuitous; it fits the story and the setting. Of course, girls like me who love high fantasy will also enjoy this. I can’t wait to read the follow up The Warlock’s Shadow and find out about the mysterious Sun and Moon temples and Master Sy’s home land. The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is like Oliver meets Graceling sort of. Well, it’s great anyway. I recommend it.
**Borrowed from the public library.