There are few books that have stumbled into my inbox that make me think, "Damn! That's a great title!" The Orphan and the Thief was one of these and, upon seeing its marvelously creative and beautiful cover, I knew I had to read its premise. But don't worry, Beardies—while I love outstanding covers and think they really enhance a book's appeal (after all, why put a cover on them at all if not to entice?), I do not judge a book by its cover. If anything, I judge a cover by its book. (Some covers really do their book little service, no?)
When Toad is kicked out of the Ramblers, a gang of thieves and the only family he has known, he tries to prove to them that he truly has what it takes to be a great thief—and what better way to prove it by stealing from the richest and most-feared man in town, Mr. Owl.
Truth be told, however, Toad is as bad a thief as the Ramblers claim and is quickly caught trying to snatch an emerald dragon statue. Normally, Owl would have his brutish sidekick, Ogg, just 'take care of' such a miscreant, but with the Hickory Guard watching him closely, Mr. Owl has just the bargain for Toad: get him a specific list of ingredients...or else.
Toad sees this as an easy task; he'll simply go to the apothecary and steal the ingredients on the list. Easy-peasy. Except the ingredients can't be found in an apothecary, which explains why he can't find them. Instead, he finds a friend in orphan and blooming apothecary Melena Snead, who agrees to help him under the false pretenses of payment.
Toad and Melena embark on a fantastic journey of Calendula, full of promise and peril, in search of Owl's ingredients—only they find much more.
Gems for Writers:
World Building. Before you huff and puff that I always choose this Gem, let me defend myself: I try and only choose books whose premise clearly indicates a well-built world. With names like Toad, Owl, and Ogg, I was definitely intrigued.
Cool names does not a world make, I realize, but LeGette delivers more than just those. There are gangs galore (pirates, thieves, AND viking hordes), dragons (but far from the overused imagery), apothecaries and potions, beer mugs of both the enchanting and the intoxicating kind, its own money system, and so much more. The magic in the book, too, is very real and none of it implausible. And the settings are so wonderful, they deserve their own Gem.
Setting. LeGette's settings remind me a bit of the settings in Ari Berk's Undertaken Trilogy: I know they're not real, but everything about them seems oddly placeable on a map, somewhere that seems quite possible to visit by means other than your imagination.
All of Calendula seems accessible, especially the city of Hickory where the story begins. With its gangs of thieves and orphaned characters, it's mildly resemblant of London in Dicken's Oliver, but only in its familiarity and the mood set by LeGette everything else is purely fresh. Except the smell, of course. I can only imagine the smell; I only want to imagine it, too.
The meadows, caves, and cliffsides draw images of Scotland or Ireland to mind, yet the deserts and arctic landscapes tell of a land far larger and more diverse. LeGette was selling tickets to her world, and I gladly hopped onto the train. I also, figuratively, hopped off before the Blackens. There's a reason I moved from the North to the South, Beardies, and it wasn't the hospitality—it was the warmth. The Blackens and its bleak landscape felt all too real for this New Englander, but I will let you experience that for yourself, as I do not want to give away too much.
Characterization. All of LeGette's characters, from the tiniest to the tallest, literally leap off the page—and, pun aside, especially Toad. From his roguish manners to his strong dialect, Toad is a new favorite character of mine. All the characters have strongly-memorable personalities; LeGette's talent at this alone reminded me of JK Rowling's unbelievable talent of the same. Even the enchanted beer mug, Joe, has a distinct personality. You almost anticipate what the characters will do and say based on this great characterization—but don't worry, Beardies, LeGette still leaves you with some surprises!
Bait-and-Switch. I won't divulge too much in this Gem explanation, but LeGette pulled off an ending for which I had secretly hoped but thought improbable.
I'm in literary love with M.L. LeGette, Toad, Melena, and the world of Calendula. I recommend this to readers of all ages, especially those who will always be kids at heart. While no second book is yet planned for the dynamic duo as of yet, I am eager to return to LeGette's world and join Toad and Melena in all of their future adventures...please?
'Ware of the Slinkwings,
***The Orphan and the Thief (2014), by M.L. LeGette, is published by and copyright CreateSpace. It is available in stores, online (see above), and from your local public library.
***Per FTC Regulations: I received a free Advance Reading Copy (ARC) from the author and was not compensated in any way, monetarily or otherwise, for this review.