Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke)

--The blurb--
"Winter has come early to Venice. Two orphaned children are on the run, hiding among the crumbling canals and misty alleyways of the city. Befriended by a gang of street children and their mysterious leader, the Thief Lord, they shelter in an old, disused cinema. On their trail is a bungling detective, obsessed with disguises and the health of his pet tortoises. But a greater threat to the boys' new-found freedom is something from a forgotten past - a beautiful magical treasure with the power to spin time itself."

--The review-- 's description of this novel invites you to "imagine a Dickens novel with a Venetian setting" in order to get a sense of The Thief Lord, and this is both an intriguing and accurate description, even though any feelings of trepidation and/or cynicism experienced upon starting to read are certainly understandable. It is, after all, just a kids' book. However, this particular kids' book exceeds expectations: the characters are realistically sketched, the writing is sublime, descriptive, vivid and accessible, and these things combined with the unique plot and setting make this a riveting read (and, for adults, a quick one too).

Funke's Italian is also accurate and used to good effect, without seeming pretentious or precluding understanding (though she does also include a glossary in the back of the book in order to be extra helpful); the vocabulary used is also suitably stretching without being offputting. However, in contrast, there are some careless clangers dropped in English that were obviously not picked up by Funke's editors. This is easily compensated for, though, by the fact of pace being kept tight and chapters being kept short, which facilitates reading even without the virtues of Funke's skilful imagery and characterisation. The cast of characters is varied but small, and each has their role to play in the storyline. They come and go like shadows, but all loose ends are tied up by the novel's end (and with quite remarkable cleverness at that - not just in the field of children's literature, but generally).

Better than this, though, is that almost Roald Dahl-style, every character gets their just desserts. Upon closing the book, there are no more questions left to be asked; the reader is assured that Fate has had its way and that justice is appropriately dispensed. We no longer wonder what will happen to the novel's main characters, but we do wonder what is next for Cornelia Funke, as more of her work sets sail for the harbour of children's literature that is set to echo down the ages.

Other works by Cornelia Funke
Inkheart (2003)*
Dragon Rider (2004)
Inkspell (2005)*
When Santa Fell To Earth (2006)
Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost (2006)¨
Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost (2006)¨
Igraine The Brave (2007)
Ghosthunters and the Totally Moldy Baroness (2007)¨
Ghosthunters and the Muddy Monster of Doom (2007)¨
Inkdeath (2008)*

*part of the Inkworld trilogy
¨part of the Ghosthunters series

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