The Thief: Hits all the right notes

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Thief by Claire North fantasy book reviewsThe Thief by Claire North

I am absolutely loving Claire North’s THE GAMESHOUSE series so far. Loving it. These are short stand-alone novellas set in an alternate version of our world where an enigmatic institution called The Gameshouse works behind the scenes to influence minor and major world events. It does this by collecting and using people as “players” and “cards.” For example, The Gameshouse may offer to help a politician win a race and, in return, that politician must make himself available as a “card” when one of the players of the Gameshouse needs to use him in the future. Nobody knows what the ultimate goals of the Gameshouse are, and most people don’t even know that it exists, but there are many players and cards who have found themselves under its dominion:

There have always been houses where games were played, but this is no common parlour, no place for dice and the snap of a card upon the table. Surely if that is the distraction you desire, you may play in the lower league with the lesser men, who bet only money and pride. But if you are good enough — if you have the will to win — then step through these silver doors and come into the higher place where we ancient souls and scheming players lay our bets down in life and blood, in sight and souls.

The Thief is the second novella in the series. You don’t need to read the first novella, The Serpent, first, but these are so good that you’ll want to read all of them, so it would make most sense to start with the first one since it gives a little more background on both The Gameshouse and one of its major players who we eventually meet in The Thief. I highly recommend the audio versions of these novellas. They are more expensive, but Peter Kenny’s narration is so brilliant that it’s absolutely worth it (you must listen!). Each is just under 4 hours long.

This second story is set in Bangkok in the 1930s. Remy, a Gameshouse member who has been living in Thailand, is challenged by another player to a game of hide and seek. Remy must hide for as long as he can from his opponent, but he can’t leave Thailand. When he is tagged, the players will switch sides and Remy will be the seeker. The winner is the one who stays hidden the longest. However, just like all the Gameshouse competitions, this one has high stakes. If Remy doesn’t win, he loses not only the game, but all of his memories.

The game is exciting and fast-paced as Remy tries to stay hidden in Thailand. We get to see a lot of the country’s beautiful scenery, meet its people, and experience its culture as Remy attempts to flee and/or just fit in. (As a very tall white man, Remy is “the most obvious man in Thailand.”) We visit train stations, river markets, jungles, villages and monasteries. We meet opium smugglers, snake sellers, and a woman who has been ostracized in her village. We ride in a truck with the chattiest man in the country. (You have got to hear Peter Kenny perform this scene!)

So much of the pleasure of reading these stories is Claire North’s striking prose and unusual narrative voice. Her style is gorgeous without being pretentious. Every aspect hits the right notes — plot, characters, setting, style, and just a touch of romance and humor. I also think it was smart for North to write short episodes that stand alone.

I hope THE GAMESHOUSE series goes on for a long time. I’m looking forward to the next one: The Master. Obviously, I will choose the audio version again.

Published November 3, 2015. The Gameshouse is an unusual institution. Many know it as the place where fortunes can be made and lost through games of chess, backgammon – every game under the sun. But a select few, who are picked to compete in the higher league, know that some games are played for higher stakes – those of politics and empires, of economics and kings . . . In 1930s Bangkok, one higher league player has just been challenged to a game of hide and seek. The board is all of Thailand – and the seeker may use any means possible to hunt down his quarry – be it police, government, strangers or even spies . . .

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. Joao Eira /

    Reading this right now to decompress from exam season (glad that’s over with). So freaking good, it’s for stuff like this that I read fiction.

    I hope she does more stories with the Gameshouse, and wouldn’t mind at all, though it’s a longshot that will ever happen, for it to be used by other authors to see what they come up with.

  2. I must read these; they sound absolutely wonderful. This whole concept is great, and filled with story ideas, so she could go on, if she wants to.

  3. Matt W /

    I have purchased this book — the first one was great, which was about as surprising as, well, something that’s not surprising at all — and I want to read it badly, but I own it. And there are borrowed books ahead of it in my queue, which makes me a little sad. Especially since I’m stuck in Night Vale and every time I open the book the pages just say “KING CITY” over and over again. I’m sure I’ll get to read The Thief soon though. And I’ll love it. Because Claire North.

  4. Must read. Must read.

  5. Grégoire /

    Great novella indeed I love the Serpent because it pictures a woman in the game in the 17th century but the Thief better It remains me of Kipling (Kim) …
    Also, great to be able to follow your reviews here
    Thanks and best regards

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