She didn’t want to be safe. She wanted to be free.
It’s Separation Day and 12-year old Goldie is finally going to be separated from her parents and guardians. Literally separated. For in the town of Jewel, where the most important value is safety, children are always chained to a parent or guardian during the day and tied to the bedpost at night. And when they do something wrong, as Goldie is prone to do regularly, they’re put in heavy “punishment chains.”
This year the Grand Protector has lowered the separation age from 16 to 12 because she believes that Jewel is much safer than it used to be. But her brother, the Fugleman, and his henchmen, the Blessed Guardians, have conspired to ruin this year’s Separation Day and to keep the kids in chains. But Goldie escapes and that means her parents have to go to the dungeons. Can Goldie stay free and get her parents out of captivity, too?
Goldie ends up at a strange place called the Museum of Dunt where, it turns out, they were expecting her. The basement of the Museum is the last stronghold of some of the things the original Blessed Guardians, 200 years ago, protected the children from — war, famine, plague, and dangerous animals. The Museum is starting to stir because it’s sentient and it senses trouble coming. The job of the Museum keepers — and it’s obvious that Goldie is being groomed as a keeper — is to make sure the museum stays calms so the bad things can’t escape again. When the Fugleman finds out what’s in the museum, he plans to use its horrors for his own advancement. Now Goldie, who has never even been allowed out by herself, must figure out how to stop him.
I listened to the auidobook version of Lian Tanner’s Museum of Thieves with my 10-year old daughter, Tali. Tali enjoyed the story and was entertained by Claudia Black’s animated narration. However, I found it difficult to become absorbed in Tanner’s story because I just couldn’t suspend disbelief. I found myself constantly thinking “that would never happen” or “these adults are too stupid to live.” I read a lot of speculative fiction, so I am used to suspending disbelief, but Museum of Thieves asked too much of me. An entire society of adults putting up with children attached to them all the time? Children punished by their loving parents by being restrained with heavy clanking chains? Parent sent to the dungeon if their kids are bad? And why would people who hate children (all the Guardians are harsh and hateful) sign up for a job as a Blessed Guardian when it involves having children tied to you all day long? And while the Guardians are spouting all sorts of nonsense such as “When we endanger ourselves, we endanger others! It is our duty to be safe! It’s our duty to be afraid!” it’s really hard to believe that all those adults could be so fearful and idiotic.
There were some aspects of Museum of Thieves that I liked such as the shape-shifting dog, the slaughterbird named Morgue, and the museum whose dimensions keep changing. Most of the characters, though, except for Goldie and a boy named Toadspit, were caricatures — the tyrannical villain, the troop of brutish soldiers, the despotic Guardians. None of these were truly convincing.
There’s a message for children in Museum of Thieves: be brave, do the right thing, even if it’s scary. But I’m not sure that message comes across when the context is something so extreme that children in our society can’t even relate to it. It’s not hard to say “be brave” when the things that these kids have been afraid of were little dogs, scissors, and water-filled ditches.
Claudia Black’s narration made the story go even more over the top. She has an awesome voice and performed with much enthusiasm, probably just as the author intended, and I loved her voices for some of the characters, but mostly the narration just emphasized the problems I had with the book — the adults sound really stupid and the bad guys sound really eeeeeevil. There’s some singing required, and that did not go well — it sounded like moaning. During the climactic scenes, Black yelled and screeched so much that my husband came running to see if Tali and I were okay.
I’m not interested in continuing with the KEEPER trilogy, but Lian Tanner did please my daughter. Tali said that she loved the museum “because it’s like a different world” and that she found the story “mysterious” and “adventurous.” She also gave the narration a thumbs up. Since Tali is the target audience, I’m giving Museum of Thieves 3 stars for succeeding there. However, I think the best children’s fantasy appeals to both children and adults.