Museum of Thieves by the talented author Lian Tanner is destined to become a classic novel of children’s and YA literature. Yes, it’s that good. I was very impressed with Tanner’s story, of the adventures of twelve-year-old Goldie Roth of the city of Jewel (formerly Dunt), and how she runs away from the rules, restrictions, and chains of her former life to become a thief and live in the Museum of Dunt. Besides learning to become a thief, she learns valuable lessons like that not everything she has been taught is bad, scary, or evil is any of those things, and that some things she’s been taught for her own good and the benefit of all of the children of Jewel are, well, not so great, after all.
All of Jewel’s children are chained to their parents (presumably for their own good and safety concerns) until they reach the age when they are thought of as being old enough that they can be separated. This day is known as “Separation Day.” There are Blessed Guardians, whose job it is to look after the children, are entrusted to care for and to teach them during the daytime, and they place the children in “punishment chains,” whenever any child disobeys or breaks any of the countless rules they are required to follow.
Goldie has been looking forward to her Separation Day for a long time, and is very glad that the age of Separation has been lowered to 12. Even so, as she is led to the ceremony by her Guardians, she is, herself, fastened to them with punishment chains. She cannot seem to resist the temptation to be herself, to rebel against the multitude of rules and restrictions that she and the rest of Jewel’s children are under, even though she knows–for it has been drilled into her from birth–that they are in place for her own safety.
The Blessed Guardians are under the authority of both an official called the Fugleman, and, in turn, the Grand Protector of Jewel, who is the Fugleman’s sister and his boss. He rushes out-of-breath to the ceremony, late, just as the scissors are about to be used to cut the ribbon that binds Goldie’s wrist to that of one of her parents. The ribbon has been placed on her wrist to take the place of the chains, Many of the Guardians totally disagree with the decision to have the age lowered that children can be set free of their chains. The Fugleman says that a bomber has exploded a bomb, which sadly, resulted in the death of a young girl. The Separation Day ceremony is halted, but Goldie steals the scissors and cuts the ribbon, not wanting to wait until whenever the Fugleman and Guardians of Jewel decide she’s old enough to be set free.
As a runaway, Goldie is not safe anywhere. She fears the stories she’s been told of disease-ridden dogs, brizzelhounds, filthy water that carries diseases like the plague, slaughterbirds, and pirates like Captain Roop, who steal children off of the streets and make them into slaves. Also, she knows that if anyone sees her, they’ll likely report her to the Guardians instead of helping her to escape, because if they are caught helping her, they would be considered criminals and could be sent away to the House of Repentance.
Goldie wants to try to make it to a far-off city where one of her relatives lives, but she feels that she is being watched by someone, and that whoever it is appears to be herding her towards some place of his/her choosing, against her will. That place is, you have probably guessed by now, the Museum of Dunt, though Goldie doesn’t realize it at the time. She smells almond cookies and can’t resist eating them, and she also grabs some golden coins she sees and puts them in her pocket. A huge slaughterbird, who at first Goldie thinks is a statue, stirs and starts shouting out that she’s a “Thie-e-e-ef!” Her capture by the man who has been following her, whose name is Sinew, marks the turning point in her life, and the beginning of her education as a thief.
Being a “thief,” is not a bad thing to be, not like it would be in our world. Let me explain–it is bad, in that being a thief means breaking the laws of Jewel and going against the authority of the Blessed Guardians. But people who are thieves of the Museum of Dunt are the only ones who are able to hold back the “wildness” that the museum contains within its numerous hidden rooms, many of which open up into alternate realities that are always trying to escape. Maintaining the happiness and health of the Museum of Dunt are what the thieves, or Keepers of the Museum, do–if it wasn’t for them, Jewel would fall back to its past problems, and possibly couldn’t survive as a city.
At the museum, Goldie meets several extremely interesting characters, like the teen boy, Toadspit, who reluctantly assists in her education as a thief. Besides him and Sinew, there’s also Olga Ciavolga, who has the control of winds through knots in her magical handkerchief, and a man called Herro (yes, with two “r”s) Dan, who has his own unique skills. She learns many skills that help her get out of jams and evade the Blessed Guardians’ attempts to capture her, like how to pick locks, and how to conceal herself three different ways from being detected.
I really liked the idea of having much of the novel set in the museum, as I love museums and think they’re pretty cool places to visit. For instance, I’ve had the fortune to have visited the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, the Smithsonian museums, and the British Museum (or BM, as it’s known there). The Museum of Dunt, though, is unlike any that I’ve ever visited, or you, I would hazard to guess, in that, for one thing, its rooms shift their positions every once in awhile. They shift more often whenever the museum feels a threat is being posed to it. This reminded me of how the classrooms of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts sometimes shift. Also, I liked the idea of the rooms representing some of Jewel’s past history, and being worlds unto themselves.
Also, I enjoyed seeing Goldie transform from being a person who is cowed and fearful of almost everything to being a young lady who is very brave and willing to face dangerous situations if it means saving her friends, her parents, and the children of the city of Jewel. The two rare and practically extinct animals that she meets at the museum, the slaughterbird, Morg, and the brizzlehound, Broo, are great characters that added a lot to the plot of the book, as well. Before meeting them, Goldie would have been likely terrified at the possibility that she might meet such creatures; but they both (especially Broo) become good friends of hers, and she couldn’t have gotten out of some difficult situations without their help.
Toadspit is transformed by getting to know Goldie, too, and I found the change of his personality was a nice touch. He starts off being arrogant and bratty, and he seems to be hoping that Goldie will fail the tests she’s presented by Olga Ciavolga, probably because he’s jealous of the attention Goldie’s receiving. He is like Goldie in many ways, though, like the fact that he, also, is a runaway, and his parents got punished, as Goldie’s do, because he ran away. His sister was taken away from them and placed under the Blessed Guardian’s “Care,” a fate that is practically like being put into a jail for kids. Through the course of the novel, Toadspit becomes a close, brave, and loyal friend of Goldie’s.
Museum of Thieves is a fun, suspenseful fantasy novel full of action and adventure. It has all of the marks of becoming a classic of children’s literature. It is the first novel in a the Keeper series, and if the other books are going to be even half as good as this one, it promises to be an awesome series, indeed. The next novel will be called City of Lies. I can hardly wait for it to come out, so I can see what happens to Goldie and Toadspit next! I’d highly recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy novels.