Review by David A. Lascelles
I am of a generation that was brought up with fantasy. I read Tolkien, played AD&D and Warhammer and the numerous other games they spawned and worked my way through endless stock fantasy novels where mystical kingdoms were populated with forest dwelling elves, cave dwelling dwarves and evil orcs. It got to the point, sometime between the mid 80s and the early 90s, where such things had become a laughable cliché. “Oh no, there’s elves in this and they use bows and live in the forest,” would be the tired refrain every time a new book came out. “Yawn”.Fantasy fiction has yet to recover from this stigma despite more recent efforts in the field looking into less clichéd territories.
It is therefore refreshing to see a book which manages to take some of these standard fantasy tropes and turn them into something new. Thief is a story set in what appears to be a standard fantasy kingdom. There are elves and dark elves and other stock fantasy races and this almost made me stop reading but there is something extra in the writing which makes me forgive Sarah-Jane Lehoux any sins and that is an ability to write gritty realism in a setting where many would rely on the fantasy elements to carry the plot.
The tale is set in the City of Eloria which, in a reflection of the modern world, is stuck in the middle of a recession. We follow young Sevy as she tries to eke out a meagre living on the streets of this crumbling city without resorting to prostitution. As a skilled pickpocket she manages to survive quite well until her friend ends up embroiled with a local pimp and this leads Sevy herself to come to the attention of the criminal gangs of the city, in particular one of the gang leaders. This leads her onto more interesting crimes.
The setting is well realised and the characters, especially Sevy who is a strong willed and feisty girl with a natural cunning and intelligence, are well rounded and interesting. The non-human races especially seem to be written with subversion of the stereotypes in mind. For example, the elf character is bitchy and jealous rather than the expected serene and majestic. About the only thing that jarred for me in this book is a change in point of view mid way through. While Lehoux seems very comfortable in Sevy’s shoes and writes her with great skill, her ability at portraying the male lead, Jarro, is less convincing. He seems a far more interesting and vital character when seen through Sevy’s eyes than he does when you are seeing things through his eyes. This is not a major problem, however, and it did not overtly spoil my enjoyment of the book.
Reading this book has led me to want to read more of Lehoux’s work and to hope that she manages to maintain this subversion of stereotypes throughout her writing. I’d also hope that fantasy authors the world over look at novels like this and consider what they might do to make their own worlds grittier and more realistic