The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Posted May 8, 2014 in Book Review / 2 Comments

The Thief Lord by Cornelia FunkeThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
Illustrator: Christian Birmingham
Published by Chicken House on September 2003
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Young Adult
Pages: 345
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
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Welcome to the magical underworld of Venice, Italy. Here, hidden canals and crumbling rooftops shelters runaways and children with incredible secrets....

After escaping from their cruel aunt and uncle, orphans Prosper and Bo meet a mysterious boy who calls himself the "Thief Lord." Clever and charming, The Thief Lord leads a band of street children who enjoy making mischief. But the Thief Lord also has a dark secret. And suddenly Prosper and Bo find themselves on a fantastical journey to a forgotten place. What they discover there will change the course of their destiny... forever.

Main Points
Review Intro
I went into this having read Funke’s other series, the Inkheart trilogy, which gave me high expectations. This was a recommendation from a friend who lent it to me. Of course I quickly figured out it was intended for a younger audience, but I still expected great things. I was not let down, not in the least. I even noticed some similarities (which are always fun to notice between series’) such as names like Loredan and Basta (which was simply an Italian word in this book).
Writing Style:
The writing was very good. It was simple in an enjoyable way. It wasn’t complicated, as if a child was narrating, even though it was written in third person. Hm. Although I did skim a bit over the descriptions of places (I’m notorious for doing that) when they got a bit lengthy…but then again, I’ve been to Venice twice. I don’t really need the descriptions (:

  First of all, the main gist is that Bo and Prosper live with three other children in an abandoned movie theater: Hornet, Mosca, and Riccio, who all steal for a living. The Thief Lord occasionally visits and brings them things he stole so they can sell them. They have the problem of Esther, their aunt, who tries to find them by hiring detective Victor Getz. At first they take turns outsmarting each other. Then things start changing.
  I just really want to get it out of the way now that I wasn’t immediately drawn to Prosper and Bo. Prosper was a bit stiff and not a lot of fun. Bo was incredibly annoying. When Victor tries to talk to him wearing some silly disguise, Bo tells him almost everything. You don’t tell random strangers you live in a movie theater! You don’t talk to strangers at all! And then later he says he doesn’t remember what he told Victor, which I’m sure was a lie because he felt guilty. I know I’m probably being really harsh because he’s just a little kid. But he was very annoying. I felt sorry for Prosper, trying to protect that little bundle of trouble. But then again, Prosper was a bit over-protective sometimes, and it proved to be a bad thing because it made Bo want to rebel against his brother just to prove he could do what he wanted. And that got them in trouble a few times. So they both had issues.
  But I do want to talk about the whole children-living-on-their-own situation. I know there are a lot of books out there where children are forced into awful situations and must survive on their own. A lot of them are fantasy. It’s not often like this, where it’s completely realistic. And to be honest, I wanted to see them make it. This kind of hit home for me, because I’m at a time in my life right now where I’m about to grow up and become independent and make a life for myself. These kids had to do this at such a young age. I was kind of jealous reading about it. I wanted it to be possible for these kids to be successful on their own, even if it meant stealing. I wanted them to be able to do it without adults. And they probably would have gone on like that indefinitely if everyone had been who they seemed to be. Unfortunately that was not the case. And they actually end up being helped by the adults.
  I will include a minor spoiler here for the sake of a thorough review. I will include a larger spoiler section later that, of course, will be whited out. But just skip this paragraph if you don’t want even a minor spoiler. Here it is: Victor actually becomes the children’s accomplice. The evil detective with the silly disguises…well, he’s actually quite nice. He’s just a guy doing his job, and frankly, he’s getting too old to be running around chasing kids. But he took the job anyway. And he seems way more in touch with his younger side than the other adults- namely, the aunt and uncle- do. He actually empathizes with the kids and proves to be a great help. Towards the beginning, there is a huge adults vs. children thing going on. But then the lines are quite blurred between who are the adults and who are the children (this is a bigger spoiler that I will not include here) later on in the book and it becomes less of an issue. I kind of like it when it’s adults vs. children (you know, like the Home Alone movies) because I’m never quite sure who to root for. Naturally I was sympathetic to Victor, because after all he was just doing his job. But I did want the kids to evade him.
  I’ve noticed also that with a lot of middle grade writers, adults in their books tend to not like children. Like Roald Dahl, and in Inkheart also (at least one notable character, and also my idol: Elinor). This book is no exception, when it comes to the aunt and uncle, Esther and Max. I recall one conversation between empathetic Victor and the two devilspawn:
“Do you actually like children?” (Victor)
“Children in general? No, not really. They’re so fidgety and loud, and often quite dirty.” (Max)
“And they have no idea of what’s really important.” (Max again)
“Well, it must be a miracle, then, that such useless creatures grow up into something as great and reasonable as you, don’t you think?” (Victor)
Victor so owns that conversation. I love him for that.
  I guess I should also ship at least a few people. It’s a middle grade, and there isn’t really any romance, but there is definitely potential. I noticed Hornet seems to have a special attachment to Prosper, who will eventually open up to her. And Victor and Ida, the woman who looks after Prosper, Bo, and Hornet at the end, are meant to be. Who did I prefer out of the boys? Well, most people would probably say Prosper, but I preferred Scipio. He was so mysterious and I empathized with him (I’ll explain later).
  So not only is Victor helpful, but Ida becomes their accomplice as well. I was surprised how well these adults could just…go along with things. Adventurous things. I guess they were both just in touch enough with their younger sides that it was fun for them.
  There were a lot of plot twists in this book. One of the biggest things was the introduction of a magical element about halfway through the book. Nothing could have prepared you for that, really. It came out of nowhere, but it wasn’t so drastic that it destroyed the story. I liked it, at least. Others might find it out-of-place, but I thought it was charming.
 At one point in the book, the characters come outside a store and it’s snowing outside, rare for Venice. It reminded me of the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which mentions the importance and meaning behind different weather elements in a story. I couldn’t remember what snow meant, but that moment in the story was really special to me somehow. I just had to mention that. You could practically feel the children’s wonder at the spectacle.
  I must say, as the story progressed, it seemed that everything fell apart since the beginning. They had to leave the theater, and their future was uncertain for a while. People kept disappearing left and right and appearing soon after someone else disappears. It was a scary time, especially for a group of orphans. But it ends well. They find a place to call home. But that begs the question. Did we really WANT a point about a good home and warm bed provided by loving parents? Or did we want a book about kids’ independence and resourcefulness? We ended up with a little of both. Only Mosca and Riccio end up pretty much the way they started, except with a more legal source of income. I was somewhat disappointed, but not completely, because the ending was happy. However, the fact that things are falling apart is hard to ignore, especially with Prosper’s remark….”We’re not together anymore, Prosper thought sadly.” (page 212) That had such an impact on me. It was so startlingly true. And sad.

  Now for the spoilers. View Spoiler »

Venice! I wasn’t surprised, seeing as Inkheart is also set in Italy. I was curious how it compared to my memories of Venice. It was perhaps set in an earlier time but it was the same Venice- canals, gondolas, San Marco Square, souvenir shops, masks…definitely the same. I loved it. Actually, Venice is my favorite foreign city.
Characters (one spoiler, highlight between brackets [] to read)
Prosper: I thought he was a bit stiff and overprotective. Frankly, I think the caretaker role he was forced into made him grow up too quickly. He wasn’t my favorite, but I still rooted for him anyway.
Bo: Wow. I had to constantly remind myself he was only a little kid, because sometimes I wanted to slap him silly. Such an innocent kid, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut at all- and even sometimes he blabbed on purpose, just to spite his brother. I mean, poor Prosper’s trying to keep Bo safe, and Bo responds by constantly putting himself (and the others) in danger as much as possible. He may have looked like an angel, but he was a little devil. Should have seen that coming.
Victor: His development is described in the plot section, but overall, I liked him. Before, when he thought children were stupid, I thought he was just another adult. But compared to the other adults, he is more in touch with his younger side and therefore much more likeable. And I find his many disguises (and fake beard collection) hilarious.
Ida: She was wonderful and truly the perfect thing for the children at the time. She was so understanding and adventurous.
Esther: She wasn’t quite a witch, but she could be a truly horrible woman sometimes. She wouldn’t do anything to directly hurt a child, but she had a lot of awful misconceptions about them. She wanted to pick and choose her child, and she seemed to consider them little more than store-bought goods. Here’s a line about her when we’re introduced to her: “Her mouth didn’t look as if smiling was its favorite activity.” (page 9)
Max: Not really better than Esther, but one comment he said really got to me. Here it is: “‘We’ll get Bo a dog,’ Max Hartlieb answered calmly. ‘And then you’ll see how quickly he forgets his big brother.'” (page 198) Of all the insensitive….
Barbarossa: Filthy little swine. Ended up getting better than he deserved. Here’s a wonderful quote: “‘And you, Ernesto…probably have a wallet where other people have a heart.'” (page 333)
Hornet: She was one of my favorites. Loves books, like me…her friends are all guys, like me….and she was so motherly to Bo and supportive of Prosper the entire time. And she was one of the few with courage to stand up to Scipio.
Scipio: Mysterious. The Thief Lord. [He would have been much more impressive if he was an honorable thief.] But I can completely sympathize with him. He was one of my favorites.
The ending was a happy one. There were a few things I wasn’t necessarily sure I liked, and would probably have accepted either way they turned out, but there were no loose ties left hanging (that I can remember).
Good vs. Bad



  • characters
  • writing
  • setting
  • lessons/morals
  • plot
  • plot twists
  • ending
Less than perfect:
  • a few twists I’m still not sure about
Bottom Line
This book is beautiful. The story was amazingly done and the characters had a lot of development and growth. The setting was marvelous and the writing was descriptive. There were plenty of unexpected plot twists and the ending was still a happy one. This book is quite a ride. It had a lot of interesting lessons to teach. Would I read more by this author? I have, and will continue to do so. Would I recommend this book to others? Most definitely.

About Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Caroline Funke is a multiple award-winning German author of children’s and YA fiction. She is best known for her Inkheart trilogy. The Inkheart books have gained a variety of attention, and critics have praised Funke as the “German J. K. Rowling”. Her books are very popular in her native country, and many have now been translated into English. Her work fits mainly into the fantasy and adventure genres. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Overall: five-stars


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2 Comments on "The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke"

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Jillian Lopez

I loved Cornelia Funke’s books! I read Inkheart when I was 9 (such a long time ago!) and I loved it. I haven’t read this book, though! I’ve been wanting to, but then I’d never had a chance to get myself a copy. Glad you liked the book, though :)

Oh and I hope you have the time to like my Facebook page! :)) thank youu!

Alicia the Awesome

You should read it! I recommend it. It’s for a younger audience than Inkheart (wow, you read it when you were nine?) but it’s still enjoyable and a short read.
I liked it!