Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Skif was an orphan who would have died from malnutrition and exposure if he had never met Deke the pickpocket. By the time he was twelve, Skif was an accomplished cat burglar. But it wasn’t until he decided to steal a finely tacked-out white horse, which was, oddly enough, standing unattended in the street, that this young thief discovered that the tables could turn on him–and that he himself could be stolen!
Thoughts: With this novel, Lackey starts an examination of the histories and backstories of characters established in previous books. In this case, the character is Skif, first introduced to us in the very first Valdemar novel, Arrows of the Queen. Introduced there as an ex-thief and now-Herald, Take a Thief takes us back in time to Skif’s childhood, telling the story of how he became a thief and how he was Chosen in the first place.
The story has Skif established as a somewhat quick-witted child in a neglectful and abusive home, setting him up right away as a sympathetic character. Fortunately Lackey does not go over the top with this, as although Skif’s situation is far from enviable, he is, at his core, a survivalist, and manages to get by quite well on his own. Mostly by posing as a page in a wealthy household, sneaking food from plates and taking naps in warm places during the times when he isn’t put to work in his uncle’s tavern. Sympathetic indeed, but you can’t help but admire Skif’s audacity and talent at what he does. And when push comes to shove and he begins to steal more than just food and warm sleeping places, occasionally being outright vindictive and cruel in his treatment of the higher classes, much of the sympathy slides away while still keeping the story entertaining. When he’s stealing jewellery, there are no illusions that he’s still just some starving child trying to make enough money to eat. He knows very well what he’s doing, and sees it as getting his own back against the people who trample down the lower classes.
But unsurprisingly, Skif doesn’t go from poor orphan child to hardened criminal, because he’s still Chosen to be a Herald. This is one of the things I’ve always liked about Lackey’s Valdemar novels. They’re wonderfully bright in their ideals but not in their morality, with characters often walking the fine line that involves them doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Need a sneaky thief to break into the house of someone you need information from? No problem, if there’s a Herald around who used to be a thief. Between this book and a couple of others, this kind of mentality is really brought to the forefront, showing that while Heralds are fundamentally good and moral people, that doesn’t mean they don’t engage in some dirty work for the sake of the greater good.
Knowing what we do about Skif later on, it’s definitely interesting to see the side of him that was rarely discussed previously. He made no bones about being an ex-thief in previous novels, and even picked the occasional pocket as a prank, but to get a firsthand view of why he developped those skills in the first place, and the circumstances that still led to him being chosen, do wonders to flesh out and expand on an already-interesting character. The book reveals little, plot-wise, that wasn’t already established previously, but as a character study was nevertheless fascinating, and well worth taking the time to read.
Ultimately, this is a book that’s skippable. I can’t deny that. It brings nothing to the Valdemar timeline, and serves more as filler material for the series than a neccesary piece of the puzzle. However, with Lackey’s clear talent for characters, I’d still say that it’s worth reading. The story moves at a quick and smooth pace, with Lackey’s characteristic writing style that leaves me stuck in the pages on the book even when nothing much is actually happening. As supplementary material for fans of the series and for those who enjoy a good character study, I definitely recommend picking this one up and giving it a whirl.