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Stealing Death Hardcover – September 8, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 7 Up—With this novel, Carey goes beyond common fantasy fare in several dimensions. Unusual for this day and age of series that go on and on, Stealing Death is a complete story in a single volume. "Pales" are immigrants who have fled south from their northern continent's troubles and who are looked down upon by the native Zolyans. One morning Kipp, 17, leaves his little brother in charge of lighting the stove so that he can attempt to capture a wild horse whose sale might save the family farm during this time of drought, when there is no money to pay the landlord. He fails and returns to find his home engulfed in flames. Kipp manages to save his sister, but not his parents or brother. It is at this moment that his Naqui powers come to him, allowing him to see the Gwali, "the collector of souls." Kipp cannot stop his family's souls from entering the Kwaja, the Gwali's sack, but vows to do whatever it takes to steal it and prevent others he loves from dying. Steal it he does, but that is only the beginning. Carey's wonderful language weaves family, love, wise teachers, and petty villains together in a vast landscape. It calls to mind Hilari Bell's "Farsala" trilogy (S & S), but this is truly a unique work. Verdict: This is quite simply fantasy at its best—original, beautiful, amazing, and deeply moving.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI END
About the Author
Janet Lee Carey is well known for her rich and engaging fantasy novels, including Dragon’s Keep, which received a starred review from School Library Journal that stated, “Nonstop action may keep readers glued to this page-turner, but strong writing and character development are what will make it linger in their memories.” She lives in the Pacific Northwest. You may visit her online at www.janetleecarey.com.
Top customer reviews
But for all that I really wanted to love this book, and for all its emotional weight of theme and character--death, guilt, love, family responsibility, aging--it had a curiously removed feel to it. Part of it was that once we had followed Kip from the fire that left him with only his little sister to the new fields he was forced to work to when he steals the sack of the Gwali (death-catcher), the book becomes very episodic as Kip is chased by the Gwali from spot to spot. The world of the book rushes by relatively quickly, with little solid place sense. It's a rare setting, as mentioned, but the land isn't fully mined for its potential--it feels a bit sketchy. The same is partially true of Kip's movements, some of which didn't seem to really advance story or character all that much. His love interest--the daughter of a rich landowner and thus out of Kip's reach--I felt was more a hindrance to the story than a plus. Without her we could have focused much more on Kip's desperation over the death of his family and responsibility to his sister--a relatively unique and certainly powerful narrative. Instead, we end up with a relatively common story--the lower-class boy and the upper-class girl forbidden to love and you can fill in the rest (well, most of it--Carey does throw the relationship for a major twist early on, but it mostly repeats earlier themes/motivations rather than add to them).
Kip is a pretty three-dimensional character, mostly well drawn, but he stands out among the others for this. His sister, his love interest, the landowner, none of them truly come alive in rich, individual fashion. They aren't stock or caricature, but they just don't have the spark of life to them. It's somewhat telling that Soar Joy, an old man who was once Kip's mentor, comes alive more in Kip's memories than most of the characters Kip meets in the flesh.
Part of the reason for that is Joy is associated with the tales of the Escuayan's and these old folktales, such as the Gwali and his soul sack, are where Carey really shines--they feel like truly ancient tales and whenever we dip into them, no matter how short the time, the book feels like it jumps up in richness of style and tone and atmosphere, as if the writer is most fully engaged in those moments. I would have happily spent more time with them in the book.
The book's close has some moving moments, and the themes of life and death are brought directly forward in strong fashion. While the story is fully resolved by the end, it also seems clear the author isn't finished with these characters yet (or at least, doesn't have to be). While Stealing Death is mostly just solid, I'd be interested to see another book by this author set in this world, one that spends a bit more time on the world and its characters. The potential is there, even if it's not fully met in Stealing Death.
Somehow, the house, barn, fields, and everything else around his home are engulfed in flame and Gwali, the Death Catcher, has taken the souls of Royan and their parents. Only younger sister Jilly has survived. Kipp vows to steal Gwali's Kwaja, or bag of souls, to release his family's spirits.
Within a day of his family's deaths, Kipp and Jilly are forced into the service of Sor Tunassi, the wealthy landowner from who Kipp's family had purchased their home. Kipp struggles to keep Jilly safe and healthy as they slave in the fields. He also struggles with his growing feelings for Zalika, Sor Tunassi's rebellious daughter.
As Kipp's journey progresses, he is continually tested in his quest to steal the power of death from Gwali. Kipp's life changes yet again one night on the way home after going riding with Zalika when Zalika takes a fall, and Gwali comes for her.
Carey's fantasy questions religion, immigration, social systems, and life over death. The lessons Kipp learns include issues of acceptance, belonging, love, and personal strength. He learns that he must sacrifice himself to keep those he loves safe. This engaging fantasy captures the reader's heart from the very first with strong characters and a fascinating setting.
Though the story is winning, the vocabulary is not for the weak at heart. Carey's fantasy dialect can be intimidating from the start. Strong readers, however, will enjoy tackling the language puzzle of Kipp's world.
Reviewed by: Theresa L. Stowell
Seventeen-year-old Kipp loses all of his family except his younger sister in a fire at the start of "Stealing Death." As a result of the tragedy, Kipp is determined to steal the soul sack of the Death, so that he can keep anyone else he loves from dying. But once he manages to steal the sack, Kipp's in for an epic struggle in learning to control it, and overcoming his emotional demons.
Carey's fantasy is set in a sort of sub-Saharan Africa, with an unusual twist. The "Pales" are the servants and laborers of the Zolyans, a dark skinned race. A Pale, Kipp longs for the magic powers that some of the Zolyans have, such as the ability to see spirits or dragons. Magic is woven into the novel, through the use of stories.
At first glance this book doesn't seem young adult, as Carey's writing is definitely upscale, which would make this a great book for intelligent kids, or those wanting to tackle something a little challenging.
I really liked the ending of this book, as I felt it was the perfect way to finish Kipp's story, and Carey pulled it off very nicely. I actually sat for a few minutes with the book after finishing, thinking about the finish. My only complaint is that the middle of the book seemed to drag on a little bit, but other than that, I think it's a great pick, if you're looking for a good, one book fantasy story.