One of Mercedes Lackey’s most popular characters is Herald Skif, the young former thief who we met in the first two VALDEMAR trilogies (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR and MAGE WINDS). In Take a Thief (2001), a stand-alone prequel novel, Lackey gives us his backstory.
It starts as so many of her stories do. Skif is a young orphaned boy who is basically a slave to his cruel uncle. The uncle owns a dirty and dilapidated tavern where, for a penny, miserly clientele can purchase the cheapest (and vilest) ale and stew in the city. Skif has lots of chores there but he tries to be out from under his uncle’s eye whenever he can. Most mornings he attends classes to learn reading and math, and he spends his afternoons stealing food from rich people’s houses and sleeping in his secret hideout.
One day Skif meets another young thief and is taken to a thieves’ den where he learns all their tricks and is eventually welcomed into their family. Then disaster strikes, setting Skif on a quest for revenge. Finally, as VALDEMAR readers already know, Skif is chosen by a Herald’s companion and brought to the collegium where he undergoes a very different sort of training — one that he doesn’t feel worthy of.
Fans of VALDEMAR will certainly want to read Take a Thief just so they can get the backstory on Skif, but this is also a good entry point for newcomers to the series. The story is pleasant in the way that all of these sorts of abused-orphan-boy-makes-good tales are. As usual with Lackey, the evil guys are over-the-top, but here she at least gives us a slightly gray-ish character in Skif — he’s a thief, but an honorable one, like Jean Valjean.
Take a Thief is one of the better written VALDEMAR novels — the prose, plot, and pacing is superior to that in Lackey’s earlier books. The audio edition (Tantor Audio), which has recently been released, is quite nice and I recommend it. The narration by Paul Woodson is excellent.