Imagine a Dickens story with a Venetian setting, and you'll have a good sense of Cornelia Funke's prizewinning novel The Thief Lord, first published in Germany in 2000. This suspenseful tale begins in a detective's office in Venice, as the entirely unpleasant Hartliebs request Victor Getz's services to search for two boys, Prosper and Bo, the sons of Esther Hartlieb's recently deceased sister. Twelve-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo ran away when their aunt decided she wanted to adopt Bo, but not his brother. Refusing to split up, they escaped to Venice, a city their mother had always described reverently, in great detail. Right away they hook up with a long-haired runaway named Hornet and various other ruffians who hole up in an abandoned movie theater and worship the elusive Thief Lord, a young boy named Scipio who steals jewels from fancy Venetian homes so his new friends can get the warm clothes they need. Of course, the plot thickens when the owner of the pawn shop asks if the Thief Lord will carry out a special mission for a wealthy client: to steal a broken wooden wing that is the key to completing an age-old, magical merry-go-round. This winning cast of characters--especially the softhearted detective with his two pet turtles--will win the hearts of readers young and old, and the adventures are as labyrinthine and magical as the streets of Venice itself. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
Wacky characters bring energy to this translation of an entertaining German novel about thieving children, a disguise-obsessed detective and a magical merry-go-round. After their mother dies, 12-year-old Prosper and his brother, Bo, five, flee from Hamburg to Venice (an awful aunt plans to adopt only Bo). They live in an abandoned movie theater with several other street children under the care of the Thief Lord, a cocky youth who claims to rob "the city's most elegant houses." A mysterious man hires the Thief Lord to steal a wooden wing, which the kids later learn has broken off a long-lost merry-go-round said to make "adults out of children and children out of adults," but the plan alters when Victor, the detective Aunt Esther hired to track the brothers, discovers their camp and reveals that the Thief Lord is actually from a wealthy family. There are a lot of story lines to follow, and the pacing is sometimes off (readers may feel that Funke spends too little time on what happens when the children find the carousel, and too much on the ruse they pull on Prosper's aunt). But between kindhearted Victor and his collection of fake beards, the Thief Lord in his mask and high-heeled boots, and a rascally street kid who loves to steal, Prosper's new world abounds with colorful characters. The Venetian setting is ripe for mystery and the city's alleys and canals ratchet up the suspense in the chase scenes. Ages 9-12.
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