– goodreads –
Unfortunately, I found myself in a reading slump again and not up to reading anything difficult or heavy. Then Valdemar got mentioned and it seemed perfect. I have read about seven or eight books as a teenager (the Arrows trilogy, The Last Herald Mage, some of Vows and Honor) and am slowly rereading them. This, however, was a first time read. I wasn’t very worried whether it would hold up – most of what I reread did just fine, I knew what to expect, and Take a Thief has a pretty decent reputation.
And sometimes, you just need fluff featuring magical horses and found families.
Skif is the only Herald who used to be a thief. This book focuses almost entirely on his childhood in the slums – the way his relatives mistreated and abused him, how he escaped them and fell in with a gang of thieves, how they taught him to steal, his various escapades and misadventures over the years…in fact, he doesn’t meet his Companion until about 60% in. Compared to Talia, who met hers pretty much instantly after being introduced…I think I prefer it this way.
Not only did we get the full context of Skif’s background, it did something very, very few pre-modern fantasy books and series do: gave us real insight into how lower class characters in a fantasy world might live. Not just a couple chapters. Not just the unusual events in the character’s life. Not focusing on someone who was particularly special compared to others (until he met his Companion, anyway). But fully over half the book of how might a completely ordinary thief get by in the slums. Thief slice of life, essentially. It’s neither morally gray nor especially complex since this is Valdemar after all, but it’s much more than we usually get and I loved it. I’m getting so sick of books focused on nobility.
As a non-native English speaker I feel like I can’t really comment on the accent most of the dialogue was in, except that it was sort of hard to read. No strong feelings, however.
If I have a serious complaint, it would be that female characters are near completely absent, especially positive ones, with agency, who exist outside of their relation to men. There are serving girls and references to prostitution (with classic negativity towards sex workers, sigh) and sexual abuse is essentially taken for granted, especially if a woman is a “half-wit” (ugh ugh ugh). It was pretty damn gross. But aside from that and the one female Herald that briefly appears later on? Nothing. And it would be so easy to make one or several members of Bazie’s thieving crew girls, too. The misogyny felt completely unnecessary and was never directly addressed.
Still, if you’re looking for a light, popcorn-y, comfy read involving thieves, it might be worth it.
Recommended to: fans of thief characters who actually want to see them steal, those curious what a fantasy slum might look like, those looking for a light, quick standalone, anyone who liked Skif in the Arrows trilogy and Valdemar fans in general
Not recommended to: those looking for morally gray stories (this is still Valdemar, after all), if a lack of female characters is a dealbreaker for you since it’s a pretty significant flaw, anyone annoyed by written dialect
Content warnings: some abuse, loads of references to and threats of rape, sexual assault, child trafficking, and pedophilia, but nothing graphic or on-screen