Opening: “They are not quick enough to catch me. Jesu, but it’s hot up here. A dusty heat haze hovers above the city, blurring the great dome of Santa Sofia. The sea beyond glitters like cloth-of-gold.”
Though the setting (Constantinople) and a young thief and a familiar declaration (I can do anything) make a comparison to The Thief seem natural, I actually felt that Rosemary Sutcliff was a better way of thinking about this story. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of Blood Feud, one of my favorites, except that the journey was reversed. Here Cai, a brilliant thief known as the Ghost, travels unwillingly from Constantinople to Britain. He finds himself caught in the middle of political tensions and rivalries which he doesn’t quite understand. And he is forced to decide how he will use his enormous talents.
I really loved this book. As I said, the Rosemary Sutcliff comparison worked quite well for me, although it’s certainly true that the more I think about it, the more little bits line up with Megan Whalen Turner. Cai is wild and hot-tempered and he has higher connections that it first appears. Nonetheless, I think MWT fans are likely to be disappointed if they go in thinking that this is going to be The Thief, because it’s not.
That doesn’t really matter, because this is an excellent book in its own right. The descriptions of Constantinople are beautiful, and I enjoyed the slow reveal of just how much Cai knows and who he is. Though he thinks of himself as lawless and hardened, the choices he make show again and again that he loves very deeply–his family, his friends, and his city.
For a time it looks like he’s lost them all. It’s at that point that he is taken to Britain, where he surrenders himself as a hostage to Wulfhere of Mercia. He has to invent himself all over again, after joining Wulfhere’s household. There he has to once again choose who he will offer his loyalty to.
I loved the relationship between Cai and his father, which seemed like it was emotionally true. I was a little less convinced by his relationship with his sisters, who were never quite fleshed out for me. The friendships he makes in Wulfhere’s court were also nicely depicted.
Cai is definitely in one of my favorite categories–the character who has great skills but who’s just a little wounded. I found his journey touching and his choices, both good and bad, convincing. Though I’m a bit fonder of England than he is (heh), I also thought that his homesickness and struggle to survive in a strange society were well shown.
This is apparently a companion book to Bloodline, which I haven’t read.
Book source: public library
Book information: Candlewick, 2011; upper mg/YA
Recommended by: Charlotte