The Thief Lord: My kids love this fantasy set in Venice

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke fantasy book reviews children audiobookThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

One thing I love about summer vacation is that my 12 year old daughter Tali and I have time to read together. Our first book for the summer was Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord which, as Tali was thrilled to learn, takes place in Venice, a city she visited a couple of summers ago with my parents.

The story is about Boniface (Bo) and his big brother Prosper(o). Their parents are dead and their aunt wants to adopt only Bo because he’s cute and sweet. She plans to send Prospero to boarding school. So the boys run away to Venice, a city their mother loved. There they fall in with a small group of orphans who live in an abandoned theater and claim that a boy named The Thief Lord is their leader. He brings them the loot he steals and they sell it to Barbarosa, a corrupt red-haired shopkeeper. When Barbarosa offers the kids a lucrative job, they decide to take it. But they need to pull off the heist while hiding from Victor Getz, the private investigator that Bo and Prosper’s aunt has hired to find her nephews. During the escapade, secrets are revealed, discoveries are made, and magic happens.

Tali and I loved this charming story about friendship, love, growing up, independence, and belonging. Venice makes a wonderful setting for a fantasy novel (though it wasn’t until more than half way through that the small fantasy element showed up) and Funke brought out its beauty as well as its grungy side. The characters are colorful and likeable. I especially like what she did with the inspector, a man who should have been the enemy but who is impossible to dislike when we see how he loves to wear disguises and care for stray animals. Other adult characters are also portrayed as people who can be trusted and loved by children, not just roadblocks to get around.

A major theme of The Thief Lord is the dissatisfaction that many people have about their age and how they grew up. Several characters are unhappy with the age they currently are, either because they are adults who feel like they were cheated out of a happy childhood, or they are children who think their parents are strict and want to be free to make their own decisions, or they are children who don’t have parents that love and care for them. I think most kids who read The Thief Lord will have some thoughtful response to this. Adults will too, whether they’re remembering their own childhood or thinking about their own parenting style.

We listened to the 8.5 hour audio version of The Thief Lord which was produced by Listening Library and read by Simon Jones. It was a wonderful production. We also have a print copy of the book that I bought for one of my older boys when he was about 12. It’s obviously been read several times — I remember that he loved the book. It contains several pretty sketches of Venice architecture that were drawn by the author.

~Kat Hooper


The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke fantasy book reviews children audiobookCornelia Funke’s young-adult classic, The Thief Lord is a wonderful amalgam of Annie, Harry Potter, Oliver Twist and Peter Pan based in the true-to-life fantasy-land of Venice, Italy.

The story centers around the run away brothers Prosper and Bo, whose mother recently passed away but left her boys with vivid stories of a city without streets and only canals, boats instead of cars, and palaces interspersed with a never-ending maze of teetering homes. Their Aunt Esther is only interested in adopting the younger Bo, and when faced with the prospect of being separated, the boys run from their native Germany to the Venice of their mother’s bedtime tales.

The boys hook up with a colorful band of other homeless children, led by the enigmatic leader Scipio, known as The Thief Lord. Using a recently abandoned movie theater as their home, the children have carved out a reasonable existence for themselves, until Aunt Esther employs Venice detective Victor Getz to track down Prosper and Bo.

The homeless children engender the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, while a combination of character qualities encapsulate Peter Pan himself. The story is actually quite simple and reads very quickly at almost 350 pages.

My 7th-grade son read The Thief Lord in advance of our family trip to Venice and couldn’t wait for me to read it as well. My 4th grader shouldn’t have any problem with the readability and concepts, and I think even my High Schooler will enjoy the simple innocence of the characters as well as the solidly colorful sense of Venice that Funke provides. The sweet spot for the story is probably high-reading 4th graders through 6th grade. And I’d highly recommend this for any children traveling to Venice.

There’s a rather dramatic shift towards fantasy in the last third of the book. It took me by surprise, since the first two-thirds are quite realistic and down to earth. At first thrown off and not particularly appreciating the shift, I’ve found myself thinking about the conclusions and simple messages of the story and found myself rather liking it.

While rich with the emotions of the homeless children, Prosper and Scipio in particular, The Thief Lord is very appropriate for most ages, with no violence, and clear children’s-story morality.

~Jason Golomb

The Thief Lord — (2002) Ages 9-12. Available from Audible. Publisher: Prosper and Bo are orphans on the run from their cruel aunt and uncle. The brothers decide to hide out in Venice, where they meet a mysterious character who calls himself the “Thief Lord.” Brilliant and charismatic, the Thief Lord leads a ring of street children who dabble in petty crimes. Prosper and Bo relish being part of this colorful new family. But the Thief Lord has secrets of his own. And soon the boys are thrust into circumstances that will lead them, and readers, to a fantastic, spellbinding conclusion.

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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 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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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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2 comments

  1. I loved this book :) Funke was what got me first interested in fantasy.

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