The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas (Harper Collins), was one of my favorite books of 2008. It was one of the first books I read for the Cybils last fall, and it stayed firmly in the small group of books I was determined to push onto our final shortlist. Happily, no pushing was required.
Here's the blurb I wrote for the Cybils website:
"This fast-paced, fun, and engrossing story tells of a young thief who has survived on the strange streets of Wellmet alone, thanks to his quick hands and quick wits. But when Conn picks the pocket of the wizard Nevery, and pulls out the stone that is the locus of Nevery's magic, his life changes. As the wizard's new apprentice, Conn has only thirty days to find his own locus magicalicus, or lose his new status. Much worse is the fact that someone, or something, is sucking the magic out of Wellmet, and Conn has to use every bit of his quickness, and every bit of his new-found magic, to defeat the Magic Thief. A great adventure, with great characters!"
And so when book number two, The Magic Thief: Lost(coming May 12), arrived at my door courtesy of Harper Collins (thanks!), I felt delight, and a tinge of trepidation. Would I enjoy it as much? Would Conn's utterly engaging voice still be there? Would the really swell cast of supporting characters continue to delight?
So I started reading....and enjoyed it no end.
At the end of Book 1, Conn's new-found locus magicalicus went up in smoke, so he's back to a nebulous status--still Nevery's apprentice, but no longer welcome at the school of magic. But Conn is convinced that he can still reach the magic of Wellmet, if only he can find exactly the right combination of magically explosive ingredients. What with the creepy dark shadows turning people to stone in the night, and his own feeling that the magic needs him, he can't stop his incendiary experiments just because he might blow the house up and be exiled from Wellmet...
I will stop there, so as not to be spoilerish.
As I read, I would occasionally stick my head out of the book to ask myself why I was enjoying it so much. The brisk pace? The engaging characters, who are interesting because of what they say and do, without Prineas ever going into much authorial detail about their inner lives? The insertion of letters and journal entries from points of view of characters other than Conn, which I enjoyed very much? It's not the plot, qua plot, that hooks me, although I have no quarrel with it. I'm thinking that it is mainly because of Prineas' writing.
Here's an example, found just now by opening the book at random:
"His spell book was fat, held closed with a lock because it was bursting with paper markers and dried leaves and interesting bits of maps."
I find it charmingly immediate, while being full of backstory that we'll never know about (why the leaves? I try hard, myself, to keep organic matter out of my favorite books). It's friendly writing, if you know what I mean, without fancy-pants latinate vocabulary words, or overuse of adjectives and adverbs, or epically run-on descriptive sentences.
And so it's hard for me to imagine the fantasy-reading middle schooler who would not enjoy this series, and it makes great escapist pleasure reading for older readers too.
Disclaimer: Book 3 of the series (Magic Thief: Found) has been written and is in the works, and book 4 is coming along well, which is very nice. However, I was dismayed to read at Sarah Prineas' blog that Harper Collins has not yet agreed to publish book 4--they are waiting and seeing. Obviously, I want to read Book 4, and so want Book 2 to sell just as many copies as it can. But I am as certain as can be that I would have written the same review even if I hadn't known this.
Incidentally, the paperback of The Magic Thief has just been released, and includes Extras!
Appendix for those who have read Book 1:
Perhaps, like me, one of your favorite characters is Benet, the taciturn knitting henchman who bakes a mean biscuit. Here is a teaser from the second book:
"I caught a look at Benet's face. It was gray, and his lips were darker gray, and he was still as stone. He was stone. Nevery kept saying the spell, and I laid blankets over Benet." (page 81)
This was a very worrying part.