Title: Thieves at Heart
Series: The Valley of Ten Crescents #1
Author: Tristan J. Tarwater
Published: 9 March 2011
Genre: YA, fantasy
Source: review copy from author
My Rating: 4/10
Tavera, affectionately known as Tavi, is a young half-elf with a talent for theft. She’s been working for Prisca the Tart but then gets recruited by Derk the Lurk – a career thief and a member of The Cup of Cream, an elite club of thieves. Derk takes Tavi under his wing, caring for her as a father would a daughter and teaching her to steal in the hope that she will one day earn a position in The Cup of Cream as well. In Derk’s company, Tavi grows from a scruffy, cowering little girl into a smart, feisty young woman.
And that’s all there is to it really. The plot meanders from one chapter to the next, with Derk and Tavi moving from one town to another, meeting people, stealing things, and generally just getting on with their largely unremarkable lives. Every time something potentially significant happens, it turns out to be just another average occurrence in the same way that meeting a new friend is notable but doesn’t typically change your life. The only major events are Derk recruiting Tavi, and a cliffhanger in the last chapter that sets the stage for the second book.
Despite the novel being about a talented thief being mentored by a master thief who’s a member of a prestigious club of thieves, there isn’t all that much thievery on the page. Yes, Tavi’s always nicking little things here and there, but when it comes to big heists, we just hear a tiny bit of the planning and then almost nothing about the execution. Derk, the master thief, doesn’t even show off his skills for us. All the interesting bits are left out.
I’m also not sure why the author chose to make Tavi a half-elf, or even create a fantasy world at all. Besides having one pointy ear (the other was cut) and being called a “Forester” every now and then, Tavi’s heritage has little effect on her life. Only two other elves are encountered in the novel, and they have very minor roles. Although the world as a whole is well sketched, it doesn’t differ much from the real one except for a few details. The dominant religion involves the worship of a night/moon goddess and people commonly swear by either her tits or her hems (“By Her tits” or “Oh tits” or “those hem-chewers”). Yeah… Time is measured in phases rather than weeks or months. Fortune-tellers are the real deal, but that’s as close to magic as the novel comes. I don’t even know why the series is called the Valley of Ten Crescents – my guess is that’s the name of this area of Tarwater’s fantasy world, but the phrase isn’t mentioned once. Overall, the novel seems to be fantasy just for the sake of being fantasy.
The book is really only about Tavi – sort of like a prolonged exercise in character building. And Tavi at least is a well-crafted character. With no real plot to occupy the reader’s attention, we get a close-look at who she is. At first she’s very shy, having being cowed into submission by abuse. Derk gives her confidence in her abilities and allows her to be herself, so that she soon emerges as a sharp, feisty girl with a good sense of humour – a sort of likeable street urchin. We see Tavi grow older, although the novel is never clear about exactly how old she is or how much time has passed. At one point Tavi says that she’s “prolly 13” and later it’s suddenly mentioned that she’s been with Derk for seven years.
Surprisingly for such a young character, Tavi turns out to be quite promiscuous, much to Derk’s despair. Although she often kisses – and later beds – boys to empty their pockets or get valuable information, it’s clear that she quite enjoys it as well. Admittedly, the merits of a promiscuous YA character are debatable, but I have to say that it’s nice to see a female character who can enjoy her sexuality without the narrative condemning her for it. Another thing I admire is that the author openly speaks about some of the personal issues Tavi has as a girl, like worrying about being flat-chested or getting her period for the first time. On the other hand, Tarwater doesn’t mention the possibility of getting pregnant when Tavi starts sleeping around, which I thought should have been an important consideration.
One last positive thing is that Thieves at Heart is decently written, which is always something I’m apprehensive about when it comes to indie novels. Unfortunately it’s also filled with careless mistakes and unclear sentences that should have been picked up in the editing process. But even if all the errors had been corrected, this book is still aimless and pretty boring. It’s like an extremely long introduction to a story that doesn’t get told. Presumably, all the good stuff is being reserved for later books in the series, but this one doesn’t give you much reason to keep reading. There’s a cliffhanger at the end, but sadly I imagine most people would get discouraged before they got halfway.