Two orphaned brothers, Prosper and Bo, have run away to Venice, where crumbling canals and misty alleyways shelter a secret community of street urchins. Leader of this motley crew of lost children is a clever, charming boy with a dark history of his own: He calls himself the Thief Lord.
Propser and Bo relish their new “family” and life of petty crime. But their cruel aunt and a bumbling detective are on their trail. And posing an even greater threat to the boys’ freedom is something from a forgotten past: a beautiful magical treasure with the power to spin time itself.
Imagine a Dickens story with a Venetian setting, and you’ll have a good sense of Cornelia Funke’s prizewinning novel The Thief Lord, first published in Germany in 2000. This suspenseful tale begins in a detective’s office in Venice, as the entirely unpleasant Hartliebs request Victor Getz’s services to search for two boys, Prosper and Bo, the sons of Esther Hartlieb’s recently deceased sister. Twelve-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo ran away when their aunt decided she wanted to adopt Bo, but not his brother. Refusing to split up, they escaped to Venice, a city their mother had always described reverently, in great detail. Right away they hook up with a long-haired runaway named Hornet and various other ruffians who hole up in an abandoned movie theater and worship the elusive Thief Lord, a young boy named Scipio who steals jewels from fancy Venetian homes so his new friends can get the warm clothes they need. Of course, the plot thickens when the owner of the pawn shop asks if the Thief Lord will carry out a special mission for a wealthy client: to steal a broken wooden wing that is the key to completing an age-old, magical merry-go-round. This winning cast of characters–especially the softhearted detective with his two pet turtles–will win the hearts of readers young and old, and the adventures are as labyrinthine and magical as the streets of Venice itself. (Ages 9 and older) –Karin Snelson