The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas is a fantastic coming of age story twisted together with ribbons of magic and mystery. It is the first in a series. Conn is the main character. He is a pickpocket by trade and necessity, and pretty good at it too. He’s living on the streets of Wellmet, a city much like Victorian London but with the addition of wizards. Conn chooses the wrong person to steal from one night. He should have dropped dead when he stole the wizard Nevery’s locus magicalicus, but he didn’t. Nevery is intrigued and takes Conn home with him as a sort of apprentice/errand boy. Conn must find his own locus magicalicus by the end of the month or he will be kicked out though. However, he barely has time to do so while he learns the arcane rules and politics of the wizards and searches to find who is siphoning off the magic of Wellmet.
Each character in the story is well rounded. Even the villain gets a reason for his wrong doing. Most notably, the secrets Conn and Nevery conceal from each other and from others affects the course of the book. Conn is running from relatives who wish ill upon Wellmet, and Nevery has onlly rectntly returned to the city after a long exile due to pyrotechnics in his youth. The city of Wellmet is such a strong setting it practically becomes a character in the story. In fact, by the end of the book you might think it is a sentient character!
The Magic Thief contains most of the elements, save one, the would classify it as a steampunk fantasy. Steampunk fantasy is a subgenre of science fiction which usually include some sort of social commenty or protest, a setting similar to Victorian England, and technology using steam. Conn’s outsider status allows him a unique perspective to critique the snooty attitudes and power struggles of the established aristocracy and wizards. Wellmet is similar to Victorian London; there are horses and gaslights, gaping class differences, and a monarchy. The missing element is that of steam based technology. However, there is the machine that is sucking power from the city, and the mechanics of magic itself that occupies a central part of the story. Perhaps these ambiguous elements would qualify it for the steampunk fantasy status. Whatever genre it is, is is a great book!
The Magic Thief reminded me of the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud, but with a more likeable and capable protagonist. It was well written and with plenty of action, it was a fast and enjoybable read. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. I strongly recommend this for readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series or the Circle series by Tamora Pierce.