The Thief Lord: From the land of pizza, a tale of survival, larceny, and adventure

The Thief Lord
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Scholastic 2002
352 pages Rs.250

I usually do a first line test before picking up a book. In this case too, the first line though not that promising sounded interesting: It was in autumn that Victor first heard about Prosper and Bo.

I had no clue about the author nor about the book. All I knew was that the book was classified as children’s fiction and was situated in Venice, Italy. That was enough. And to be honest, I haven’t regretted picking it up.

The story proper: 12-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo (short for Boniface) are orphans who have come to Venice partially because their late mother’s fascination for the city which was transferred to them through the fantastic stories that she told them and partially because they wanted to escape the claws of their aunt Esther who wanted to adopt only Bo because he was this real cute child. The brothers join in with a gang of Robinhood-like thieves led by their charismatic and enigmatic leader Scipio who likes to call himself “The Thief Lord.” The gang sells whatever their leader steals to Signor Barbarossa, a gruff and grubby antiques dealer, who pays them a pittance because they are children.

The two brothers’ life seems to chug along till there comes a block in the road. Persistant Esther and her tall husband have hired a detective Victor Getz to search for the boys in Venice so that she can adopt Bo. Getz does manage to locate them but does not give away their location because his sharp eyes detect that the aunt actually wants a cute kid not Bo as her child. But I am getting ahead of myself as usual.

The Thief Lord has in the meanwhile been approached by a Duke through Barbarossa to steal a wooden wing for him for which he is ready to pay 5 million. As Victor closes in on the pair of brothers, he is taken hostage. He is later released but by then he is already on their side. The Thief Lord’s gang will have to steal the wooden wing from the house of Signora Spavento. But they get caught. When they tell her their story, she readily agrees to give the wing on the one condition that they allow her to accompany them to their secret rendezvous with the Duke. They agree. Signora Spavento tells them the story of the Merry-go-round of the Merciful Sisters: Spavento herself was an orphan brought up by the Mercidul sisters and had heard the story of a magical merry-go-round riding on which could make an adult a child and vice a versa. One day, it was stolen. And no one knew till date where or how it was. If the Duke wants the broken wing from a flying lion’s figure on the merry-go-round, is it possible that he knows where it is? So starts the children’s adventure to a secret island called Isola Segreta.

They get to know if the merry-go-round really exists and who could gain from it. Of course, there are certain mishaps but which all turn out to be god-send twists in the plot. I can’t say anymore because I have already told enough!

What I found most compelling was the plot: a rather unusal but still true story that one could relate to. Also, one could get to know the world (and magical Venice) from the children’s point of view. A deep desire to revolt against the authority of adults is very palpable in each of the characters. However, they wouldn’t have gone far without the help of two adults who are actually children at heart: the benevolent Signora Spavento and the compassionate Victor Getz. Other themes include the adult longing to return to a child’s world and the child’s longing to be an adult. Wisdom lies in recognizing that all stages have its time. Once that it is gone, trying to get it back can only be like clutching at straws. The city of Venice is almost like a character in the book. She describes it with a rare passion that makes you realise that this story is her ode to it.

After Rowling, I find that this writer has exploited the use of names to underline the character. Almost all the names are symbolic.

Prosper: connects to Prosperity; P gets the best deal with Barbarossa by playing it adult in the negotiation game.

Bo: Short for Boniface. Named after – I assume – the real holy St.Boniface. The association with religion and purity. His cherubic looks add to the plot. It is the reason Esther becomes fascinated with him.

Scipio: is the family name of a Roman noble family. In the story too, he turns out to be from a rich family.

Barbarossa: is the other name of Khayr ad-din, a Barbary pirate. Also, note connotations of “barbaric” woven into the name.

Victor Getz: Need I say anymore? With a name like Getz, I thought he would get the kids for Esther the moment she hired him!

Reading Funke was fun but she don’t expect her to reach the depths that some other writers do. Hers is a fun story with lots of truths, a little magic, some daring, and some beautiful descriptions of a beautiful city.

Rating: * * * * = Bindaas (Great)

My Rating System:
* * * * * = Khallas (Deadly)
* * * * = Bindaas (Great)
* * * = Jhakaas (Good)
* * = Timepass(Okay)
* = Bakwaas (Avoid it)

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