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Take a Thief
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 435 pages

Jody A. Lee
Take a Thief
Mercedes Lackey
Born in 1950 in Chicago, Mercedes Lackey (née Ritchie) graduated from Purdue in 1972. After some years as an artist's model, lab assistant and security guard, she embarked on a career in computer programming. Active in writing and recording folk songs, Lackey has published close to 50 novels and collections since her first book, Arrows of the Queen, was published in 1985. She won the Lambda award for Magic's Price and the Science Fiction Book Club Book of the Year for The Elvenbane, co-authored with Andre Norton. Besides an interest in scuba diving, Mrs. Lackey is also a licensed bird rehabilitator, specializing in wild birds.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Exile's Honor
SF Site Review: Brightly Burning
SF Site Review: Flights of Fantasy
SF Site Review: The River's Gift
SF Site Review: Owl Knight
SF Site Review: The Black Swan
SF Site Review: Owl Flight
SF Site Review: Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
Mercedes Lackey Bio
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
The World of Velgarth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

You would think, from the stories of the heroic Heralds and their fair, strong Queen, that Valdemar would not have the poor and the desperate scraping out a miserable living in any way that they can. But it does, and Skif knows the rules well. Orphaned at an early age, he has spent most of his life working as a drudge in his Uncle Londer's tavern, the most disreputable in all of Haven. The Queen has declared that all children have to go to school until they are good with their writing and figures, and Skif, eager to get the only good meal he can in a day holds back on learning, figuring he can stay enrolled. This is not his only scheme for getting food. He learned to pretend he was a page in Lord Orthallen's house, by stealing a uniform from the laundry building. When the leftover food on the platters returns to the kitchen, the servants there jealousy guard it as their due, but Skif quickly realized that before this time, no one really pays attention to the amount of food on the plate. So he was able to carefully palm a cube of cheese here, a roll there. It's after one of these luncheons that he's hiding in the attic of the laundry building, dozing in the warm of the laundry tub left there for storage. He encounters a thief who is there to steal some silks from the laundry. Deek readily agrees to teach him what he knows, and takes him back to meet Bazie, who agrees to apprentice Skif.

One day, his cousin, a member of the Priesthood and not at all like the rest of the family, warns Skif not to return to the inn, and he soon find that his Uncle had borrowed money. In the ensuing row when the new owner came to take over the tavern, his other cousin, the nasty Kalchan, is arrested for murder and statutory rape. Now that Skif is without a home, the thieves willingly take him in. He learns to roof walk, and quickly becomes very skilled. Skif is content, but of course, it's short-lived. A fire, fueled by fresh tar burns out the hide-away, killing his new family. He turns from thief to spy, determined to get revenge.

Skif may be familiar to anyone who has read the Heralds of Valdemar. I like that Mercedes Lackey has gone back and told some of the stories of older characters. Alberich, who is also a figure in Heralds of Valdemar, and in his own book, Exile's Honor, also plays a role in Take a Thief. I liked Skif because, while he is a thief, he's a thief with honor. He only takes what he needs to survive, and he never robs a working man, because if he steals a pair of shoes from a cobbler, then that cobbler's family may have to go without.

Which leads us to that which really sticks out the most in Take a Thief. The poverty which drove Skif to this life is almost a character in itself. Table scraps are sold, and refuse has rules... anything on the ground you can have, but the things in the bins go to the ragman. The tavern's food comes from the table leavings of better establishments, and people sell their own urine to the tanner. Everything that can be used is, over and over again until it disappears. The setting, with its careful hierarchies, more fragile and intricate than any government, is as rich as it is disheartening.

The companion chooses Skif towards the last quarter of the book. I won't go into that, but I will say that him stealing Cymry and ending up being the one kidnapped is a hilarious scene... his adapting to the Herald ways, and being trained by Alberich is also nicely done.

I hope that Lackey continues to help us discover some of the characters who have fallen by the wayside, for not only does it make the books we first met them in more interesting, it makes the whole of the world richer as well.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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