The Grave Thief
The Grave Thief
“Every fairy tale has a seed of truth.” The lines in his uncle’s face deepened. “They say that the old magic was common once. It came from inside a person, and it was mighty useful, it could help things grow, mend things, even heal. But over time, people began to forget how to use it. It took time to learn it, see, and a steady patience. Around that time, some peculiar gemstones were found in the mines, carrying a different breed of magic: a kinda magic that was quicker to wield. If you had one of these stones, you could change things, twist the old magic into an unnatural sorta magic. You could cause flowers to turn to weeds, turn fresh milk sour, or even manipulate rocks an’ water. ‘Course even they had a limit to their power.”
Spade’s thoughts churned. “Are those the kind of stones that Dad’s always looking for?”
Malachi nodded. “Yes, boy. But there’s more to the story. You see, there was one miner that dug deeper than all the others, and he broke through the shaft into an old sorta tunnel. He followed it all the way down to a vast cavern.”
Malachi took a long drag from his pipe and puffed the smoke into the night. “That miner found some gemstones in the cavern that were stranger than all the others. He hauled them back up to the surface, an’ it’s said that the royal family claimed most of ‘em and dubbed them the deepstones. The rumor goes that the magic of the deepstones was far beyond that of any others found in the mines. Some said they could bring incredible fortune… or endless sorrow.”
Spade, aged 12, has never had an easy life. Lame, uneducated and a member of a disdained family of ‘joolies’ or jewel thieves, he is often an object of ridicule. His job, assisted by his pet crow and little brother Benji, involves stealing jewels from the newly buried dead. When, one evening, they are caught stealing from a grave in the Royal Cemetery, they know the punishment will be severe. However, the queen gives Spade the opportunity to make recompense by sending him on a seemingly impossible quest. He must find the person and the magic deepstones that control the fearsome monster known as Woegon who terrorizes the land by night.
Focusing on saving his little brother languishing in a palace dungeon, Spade sets out on a mission at which so many have failed. Unexpectedly, he is joined by Ember, a rebellious young royal of his own age who is longing for adventure. Replete with magical or fearful characters, the adventure that follows is fast-paced, constantly evolving and complex, pitting two children against the strength of evil and loss. Along the way, the children are assisted by a mysterious cat, brave creatures called lumpkins, a curious old lady and a magical stone Spade had removed from a grave.
The plot is intricate and occasionally hard to follow, but the writing and sense of excitement compel the reader on through both surprising and predictable plot twists to a dramatic but ultimately satisfying conclusion, hinting at the misery that grief and loneliness can lead to.
The main protagonists are well-drawn. Spade is a vulnerable character who possesses plenty of street-smarts, loves his family and is protective of his younger brother and his best friend, Ash the crow. Ember is a perfect foil for Spade, her theoretical knowledge and rebelliousness a contrast to Spade’s down-to-earth practicality. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, a strong respect and friendship grows between them. Supporting characters that stay with readers include wise Uncle Malachi, eager Benji and the cold but grieving Queen Carmelia.
Set in an indeterminate but distant age where magic, heroes and villains, and good and evil are accepted as part of the fabric of life, The Grave Thief will appeal to fantasy and adventure lovers.
Aileen Wortley is a retired children’s librarian from Toronto, Ontario.