The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is a new YA offering from Adamantine Palace and King of the Crags author Stephen Deas. Staying away from dragons this time around, Deas’ third novel begins an all new fantasy trilogy set in a richly envisioned environment populated by an entertaining bunch of characters. This first foray into YA is largely a success in that it nicely bridges YA and adult fantasy to offer more mature, meatier content to potential younger readers and a lighter, adventurous read for older readers. It’s not perfect, but The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is a solid novel that bodes well for what is to come in this series.

Blurb:

Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the master of their band, Hatchet. But there is a twist to this thief’s tale.

One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren, not that he has much choice, becomes his apprentice.

And is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he though he knew. A city where he must learn to take not purses but lives...

Though Deas drops some subtle hints that The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice takes place in the same world as his Memory of Flames books, for new Deas readers or those that don’t pay too much attention to obscure references this world is presented very much as a new one. The city of Deephaven is so vast and complex that even after a full novel there are still much to discover. It is the perfect setting for a fantasy adventure, especially one such as this. Deas deals out the information about the city’s characteristics, history, population - in essence worldbuilding - in a very casual manner through Berren’s learning of his master’s trade without ever interrupting the novel’s brisk pace and thankfully avoiding dreaded info-dumps.

Due to its relatively short length, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice cannot afford to lose any time and it doesn’t. Berren will be to younger readers an exciting and relatable character with all the confusion, fascination and temperament of a typical teenage boy, while older readers might lean more towards Master Sy. The latter does play an interesting role in the story, being of course the wise master but also being the one with the mysterious path, dubious connections and pretty badass skills. That is not to say that those aspects won’t appeal to younger readers just as Berren remains extremely engaging for older ones.

The story possesses well-dosed amounts of action, love story, apprenticeship and discovery. Lilissa serves as the love interest for Berren and barring his relationship with Master Sy theirs is the most stirring of the novel. I found the main sort of background-intrigue of the book, the Thief-Taker’s taking down of a pirate cartel whole lot less interesting than I would have liked. Instead Berren’s street encounters proved to be much more gratifying in terms of both plot and character development. In the end though this might just come down to personal taste.

It is too easy to compare this book to adult fantasy books, but that, of course, is not what is intended to be. Judged plainly as a YA fantasy, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice most likely surpasses targeted readers’ expectations and outdoes a lot of the competition. What is obvious from the start is that Deas has written this book for what he believes he teenager will realistically enjoy. This means he doesn’t go for the silly and fluffy just because his book will be sitting in the YA section of the bookstore. To the contrary, he is not scared to include grittier bits that give a darker tone than one might expect. This also makes it also accessible to older readers who wish the opposite of their younger counterparts. On any level though Stephen Deas really has written an easily enjoyable novel.

With writing, plot and characters on par or above any other YA fantasy I’ve encountered, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice is an exciting start to a new series. This book deserves to find its way onto many, many bookshelves, be that of younger or older readers. Stephen Deas once again, I think, proves to us that he has much talent. After his first two novels it was nice to see him try his hand at something slightly different. For more Deas you’ll have to wait for Order of the Scales, the finale of his A Memory of Flames trilogy, scheduled for May 2011. For the sequel to The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, The Warlock’s Shadow, your wait will have to extend until July of that same year.

Summarizing Info:
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 13-14 and up

Links:
Stephen Deas' Website: http://www.stephendeas.com/

Buy The Thief-Taker's Apprentice:
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Bookdepository.co.uk