fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy novel reviews Janni Lee Simner Thief EyesThief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner

Based on the Icelandic myth told in Njal’s Saga, Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner centers around American teenager Haley, who comes to Iceland with her father. The two of them are trying to find Haley’s mother, who had disappeared there a year earlier after an argument with Haley’s dad. Haley gets caught up in a generations-old curse when she finds an inscribed coin on the shore of a lake. Trying to escape the effects of the curse, she has to face the consequences of actions made by people a thousand years before she was born, and negotiate the conflicting needs of her parents, ancient gods, and Ari, a young man who is much more than he seems.

I was impressed with the originality of the setting. Based on ancient Icelandic mythology, this story is in keeping with many recent young adult fantasy books also based on mythological settings, but mines new territory rather than the more utilized Celtic or Greek mythologies. However, the Icelandic myth felt only loosely attached to the story, which instead focused on angsty teenage melodrama and dysfunctional family relationships. The story was at its best when it focused on the saga elements, especially when Haley and Hallgerd finally confront each other at the end, but tended to meander through the rest of the setting with little purpose. The characters — Haley, Ari, and the adults — all felt like stock clichés rather than characters that evolved on any level.

As in her previous work, Bones of Faerie, Simner excels at creating interesting settings, but struggles with characterization. Capable of writing compelling scenes, her skills falter when it comes to linking those scenes together into an evocative story. While the climax was compelling, the payoff was not worth the investment of reading the rest of the book.

~Ruth Arnell

YA fantasy novel reviews Janni Lee Simner Thief EyesThief Eyes begins with a spine-tingling scene of sorcery, in which Hallgerd, a young girl in ancient Iceland, calls upon dangerous powers in order to avoid an unwanted marriage. With this scene, Janni Lee Simner sets an ominous mood, gives us some background information, and provides a few tantalizing hints about what might unfold later.

We move then to Haley, a young American girl of today who has just arrived in Iceland with her geologist father. A year ago, Haley’s mother went missing on the island, and she has accompanied her father in the hopes of finding out what happened. Uncanny events start to occur when she discovers a strange ancient coin, and then she learns in heartbreaking fashion that her family was not as happy as she thought it was.

Distraught, hounded by Hallgerd’s spirit, Haley takes a dangerous tumble into Iceland’s mythical, magical underside. Her quest is to keep Hallgerd’s spell from unleashing volcanic disaster. Her closest allies are Ari, a boy who is also descended from a powerful magical legacy, and Freki, an utterly adorable talking white fox (he’s supposed to be a wolf, he tells us, but there are no wolves in Iceland).

I really enjoyed the characterization in Thief Eyes. Every character is nuanced rather than “good” or “evil”; you never know when a “good guy” might make a mistake or a “bad guy” might surprise you by doing something honorable. Haley is a terrific heroine, a strong, bright girl who questions authority and doesn’t just do things because a supernatural figure tells her to. She faces temptations — both romantic and vengeful — but tries to do the right thing even when it isn’t easy.

The plot is complex, dealing with several timelines at once, and Simner brings it all together in a climactic scene that’s clever and touching. I also like the way the romantic subplot is handled at the end. It seems true to the characters’ ages and where they are in their lives.

Thief Eyes paints a vivid picture of Iceland and alludes to many of its myths. You may find yourself wanting to travel there or to read the classic sagas. I know I did! This is a well-researched and thoroughly enjoyable young adult novel, not to mention refreshingly original. (No vampires!)

~Kelly Lasiter

Thief Eyes — (2010) Young adult. Publisher: After her mother mysteriously disappears, sixteen-year-old Haley convinces her father to take her to Iceland, where her mother was last seen. There, amidst the ancient fissures and crevices of that volcanic island, Haley meets gorgeous Ari, a boy with a dangerous side who appoints himself her protector. When Haley picks up a silver coin that entangles her in a spell cast by her ancestor Hallgerd, she discovers that Hallgerd’s spell and her mother’s disappearance are connected to a chain of events that could unleash terrifying powers and consume the world. Haley must find a way to contain the growing fires of the spell — and her growing attraction to Ari. Janni Lee Simner brings the fierce romance and violent passions of Iceland’s medieval sagas into this twenty-first-century novel, with spellbinding results.


  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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