The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas is the first in a trilogy and reminds me very much of Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series from its square shape to to it's map of the town and guide to the characters at the end of the story, as well as wonderful illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo. Both series can serve as the perfect bridge between shorter chapter books and popular, more intense series like Cornelia Funke's Inkworld trilogy or the Harry Potter Series. Where the books differ is in their imaginary settings. While Angie Sage's series has a distinctly medieval, fairy-tale like feel, Sarah Prineas' has a more Victorian air to it, the narrator sometimes using mellifluous phrases like "quick dart" and "skip-tripping."
In what has to be one of the best first lines to a fantasy novel I have read in a while, the narrator, Connwaer, tells us that, "A thief is a lot like a wizard." As his description at the back of the book reads, Conn is a "master pickpocket, a superb lock-picker and lover of biscuits and bacon." His story begins when he picks the pocket, out of pure curiosity, of Nevery Flinglas, a wizard who has recently returned to Wellmet after a twenty year exile. Conn steals his locus magicalicus, the stone through which the free flowing magic in the town of Wellmet can be harnessed. Anyone else attempting this fear would be killed or severely harmed by the powerful magical object, but not Conn. Sensing he could be useful, Nevery takes Conn to the chophouse and feeds him the first warm, filling meal Conn has had in a long time. From there the two, along with the menacing, burly servant Benet, form an uneasy alliance, which they will need.
The magic in Wellmet, which keeps the werelights glowing and the factories running, among other things, has been dissipating. The Magisters, admitting Nevery back into their fold, search for answers to this dilemma. At the same time, Nevery is realizing that Conn has some natural talent, power actually, of his own when it comes to practicing magic. Hoping to train him, Nevery insists that Conn attend school at the Academicos and learn to read runes - in which a secret message is written at the end of the diary entries of Nevery's that conclude each chapter. There he meets Rowan, the non-magical daughter of the Duchess of Wellmet, Willa Forestal. Conn learns to read with great speed and finds himself with the task of discovering his own locus magicalicus and the source of the waning magic in thirty days. Where he finds is and the power it possesses comes as a great surprise to all. And, despite his best intentions, Conn learns that his shady past keeps the people he respects most from trusting him at times.
Conn has an entrancing narrative voice. He is a quick learner and his voracious appetite for biscuits is well documented. A copy of Benet's delicious recipe for biscuits, as well as Conn's not-so-delicious, is in the back of the book along with some other great extras. The character of Nevery and his diary entries, as well as the mysteries surrounding his exile, are interesting. The spells sometimes practiced in The Magic Thief sound similar to science experiments and in the next book, The Magic Thief: Lost, new in hardcover, the scientific nature of magic plays a much larger role in the story, as do explosions...