“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Translated by Oliver Latsch

… so said Truman Capote. Going to Venice is like stepping into a time-warp. On the surface, it’s ancient, romantic and beautiful, yet it is mysterious and there’s often a whiff of danger from its history as a great trading city. Much of the paraphenalia of modern living is hidden from the tourist’s view allowing you to wallow in adoration of this unique place.

This is the Venice of The Thief Lord by German author Cornelia Funke. It feels so Dickensian in time, that you are really surprised when a mobile rings. Dickensian is actually an apt adjective, for the book centres around a group of orphaned children who live together in an abandoned cinema, looked after by their Faginesque young mentor – the self-styled Thief Lord. The two newest members of the gang, brothers Prosper and Bo, have a detective on their trail whose job it is to return Bo to the guardianship of his rich aunt; the brothers had run away as they were to be split up.

The first third of the book introduces us to the gang and their life in Venice which is hard, but appears a lot of fun. It takes its time to get going though, but once the detective Victor (who doesn’t normally do lost children) is hard on Bo and Prosper’s trail things start to hot up. Also the Thief Lord is commissioned to steal an object for a mysterious Conte, which would earn them enough money to live well for ages. They can’t resist the job though, and things happen thick and fast with many twists and turns in the plot.

The novel up to this point has been firmly rooted in reality, but it turns out that the object they are looking for is the missing part of a magic roundabout which has the power to either age its riders or make them younger. I felt that the introduction of this fantasy element at such a late stage in the book was detrimental to the story, although it did then allow for very neat tieing up of many ends.

This was the first novel in my Easter kid-lit feast, and overall I really enjoyed it. As an adult it was an easy read but never simplistic. Aimed at around 8-12 yr olds, I feel that the slow first third (it’s nearly 350 pages long) might not hold the interest of some younger readers enough to get to the real excitement, but the chapters are fairly short, so the frequent scene changes may do the trick. The main characters are great – I loved Victor the sympathetic detective with his pet tortoises, and Scipio the Thief Lord was really interesting. All the alleys and nooks and crannies made Venice seem very real, and the smattering of Italian in the text was well-integrated, and explained in a glossary at the back.

I would definitely like to read Funke’s Inkheart trilogy, which are full-on fantasy novels for 10+. On to my next book – Numbers by Rachel Ward a novel for teens about a girl who can see the date when people will die …

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