From School Library Journal
Grade 6-10–In this exciting adventure, Weasel, a former pickpocket, has been given a home and a position as a clerk by Justice Holis. When Holis is arrested for plotting against the regent for Prince Edoran, the 14-year-old sets out to save him, becoming involved in politics at the highest levels. He sneaks into the palace and appeals to Edoran himself, who demands a public trial and gives Weasel a deadline for producing evidence to save Holis. Weasel thinks the outlaw called the Falcon, known for being a freedom fighter, can help him, and he and Arisa, a girl whom he has helped escape from prison, travel in search of the Falcon. Weasel's schemes to rescue Holis lead him to pretend that he has found a legendary shield that gives legitimacy to kings but has been lost for centuries. When Weasel's deception may be reality, he has to decide what to do with the shield, whom to trust, and what he can do to right past wrongs. The boy's development from a character who says he cares about me first, me second, and nobody else to one who is willing to risk everything for his friends and the fate of his kingdom is believable and authentic. Bell's trademark shades of gray help shift readers' perceptions of the characters and their motivations, adding an unusual layer of depth that moves this story beyond simple adventure. Weasel's choices are complex and believable, and readers will be left waiting for the second volume in this proposed trilogy.–Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary School, Franklin, WI
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Thief-heroes abound in youth fantasy, as in Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord (2002) and Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief (2006). Bell, author of the Farsala Trilogy, introduces one more streetwise trickster here. When kind Justice Holis is seized for plotting against Deorthas' unjust ruler, the nimble reflexes of Weasel, his 14-year-old clerk and a former pickpocket, serve both in good stead. First, Weasel escapes his own imprisonment; then, with the help of his scrappy cellmate, Arisa—a country lass who, startlingly, excels in hand-to-hand combat—he rounds up outlaw allies to rescue his beloved mentor. Throughout, Bell illuminates tensions between new and ancient ways, and explores the potency of symbols (like a lost royal shield) to tilt public opinion. Weasel's history with Justice Holis is too briefly summarized to convincingly motivate all of this risk taking, and it's easy to miss the political nuances shading the conclusion. But with its Artful Dodger action and the satisfying expansion of its protagonist's social conscience, this first entry in the Shield, Sword, and Crown series will leave many readers wanting more. Mattson, Jennifer Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved