Pickpockets, Venice, and a Magic Carousel
What could possibly go wrong?
Alright, so after griping over The Wizard of Oz, I owe you a good book review. And here it is, in all its whimsical, gritty, beautiful, bizarre, glory.
The Thief Lord, everyone.
Book Review 7 (spoiler-free): The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Magical Realism
Bookmarked One Rating: 8/10
Completion Date: Late Summer 2016
Content for the Sensitive Reader: some mild language/violence, robberies and pickpocketing without direct punishment, references to churches as “creepy,” and smoking.
It’s a weird book. Probably why I like it.
I didn’t actually fall in love with it at first read. I think this was around the time I had first gotten my claws into Inkheart and was reading everything else Cornelia Funke I could find.
The Thief Lord is not Inkheart, that’s for sure. And for 75ish percent of the book, it doesn’t even seem like fantasy.
She saved up for the last quarter of the book so things could get really interesting.
That being said, the first part has its own charm. I am the first to pounce on a rich, well-developed high fantasy, but some books don’t actually require a magical element to be good. Like Robin Hood. They’re just good. The first part of The Thief Lord is like that.
The scene is Venice. An abandoned movie theater. The characters, children, pickpockets and runaways by trade, and one Victor Getz, detective.
What else could you possibly need?
Just a boy who calls himself the Thief Lord, a man who takes him seriously, a few charming scenes with pigeons, a fat pawnbroker, a charming photographer with gondola earrings, and a magic carousel (which, by the way, makes an offhand appearance in Fearless).
After reading Inkheart, I easily fell in love with the beginning of The Thief Lord. In order of appearance,
- I loved Hornet with her long braided hair and “slightly hoarse” voice. And she had my taste in books. If I were any of the characters (fun as it would be to play the part of Scipio), I have little doubt I’d be Hornet.
- I loved the movie theater. Woo, did I love the movie theater! I’ve almost never looked at a movie theater since without thinking of theirs, slowly sinking beneath the Venetian waves. Somewhere in the ages since I read that book, I realized I wanted to live there, too. Hornet reading aloud at night, her voice echoing off the walls, Prosper mending Bo’s socks, everyone listening for Scipio’s footsteps…
- I loved Prosper and Bo. They are the perfect pair of brothers. The kind that are so good and sweet you want to hug them both and tell them all their dreams will come true, just hold on tight, everything will be fine. They would give up anything for each other. Anything.
- I loved the idea of the dashing Scipio running about Venice in his plague doctor mask–I want to do that! I want to stroll about in a mask and have his even confidence that nobody thinks twice about it. And I want to go running across rooftops in a long black cloak. I love the way he tells the stories of his exploits. Storyteller, liar, something in between, well, we have that in common. And by this point, I think I’ve made clear my weakness for good thief characters.
- I loved the deceit. Weird thing to love, I know. But I love it when characters get snared in their own web of secrets and lies, when the web becomes so thick they can’t tell what’s real and what’s make-believe.
- I loved Bo. Especially Bo and his kittens, Bo getting into trouble, Bo just acting like any other kid his age, and Bo being stubborn and knowing he isn’t a painting in a gallery just for looking at.
- I loved Riccio! Riccio always made me laugh in the first half, especially his sparring matches with Barbarossa and hunting after sweets (note here, of the movie adaptation, Riccio was cast perfectly. It’s not often I get to say that).
- I loved that the kids weren’t invulnerable. That they got colds living in the theater and had stuffy noses, and got banged up and admitted that life was scary and hard. It was gorgeous. So many books act like pain or the common cold don’t exist, and they’re so much less real for it.
- I loved baby Barbarino. Oh, I laughed and laughed. Another thing the movie adaptation got right…minus the curly hair, that is.
- I love the weird ending. I love how it doesn’t feel right. I love that Scipio ends up…well to avoid spoilers, not unhappy. I love that just when everything seemed over, Scipio showed up and said let’s have one more adventure and see if we can make things worse. I love that he went back for his cat, even though I thought it was weird until all of a few months ago, when I realized I’d sadly do almost the exact same thing. I love that Cornelia has twisted parts of an old story into something new, making us all wonder if Peter Pan had the right idea after all. I love that I still haven’t made up my mind about if she’s right or not. I love that every time I think about it, I realize I’ve fallen for it a little more.
It didn’t actually happen all at once. I finished it right before the school year started, sat in my beanbag chair, looked at the beautiful cover and thought well, that was weird.
Or some such. You get the idea.
I set the book aside, read something else (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was also that summer, if I remember correctly), wondered if I liked the ending. Thought it was a weird book.
Then something happened. I don’t know when.
Six months, maybe a year later. I found out about the movie adaptation.
Both halves of my brain: we must watch it.
So I did. Because I suddenly realized that I loved the book. All of it. Scipio, Prosper, Bo, Hornet, Riccio, the theater, Venice, the carousel, everything, everything, all of it. And I had to see the movie, even if it got things dead wrong because I wanted to see them all again, just like it was the first time, fresh and new as a clean white page.
And now I’m realizing that I’ve written almost the entire review with nothing negative to say about the book.
I guess it’s going to have to stay that way because I can’t think of anything now to grouse over.
I would have a few years ago.
Sometimes Cornelia’s books just have to grow on me. I was totally dissatisfied with Inkspell after I read it…and Reckless disgusted me the first time and a half…now I find myself talking about them like old friends (don’t get cocky, Jacob Reckless. I still don’t approve of you).
As for the movie adaptation…well, stick with the book. It’s not bad. It’s actually pretty good. But stick with the book. It’s better. By far.