Thieves have been rather popular in middle grade fantasy fiction for the past few years. The “thieves” are usually Oliver Twist or Artful Dodger types, lovable scapegraces who come out of poverty and sometimes end up as princes or kings or long lost sons of rich families. And mostly the thieves are boys. (Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series, Jonathan Auxier’s Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson, The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, Jupiter Pirates series by Jason Fry, Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey, and many more that I’m not thinking of, I’m sure.)
Twelve year old Alli Rosco fits the prototype in some ways. She’s an orphan who never really suited any of the many families looking to adopt, but she didn’t like any of them either. Her mother abandoned her on the orphanage doorstep at the age of three, and Alli has been trying ever since to forget her mother and the brother who didn’t get sent to the orphanage. And she’s also been trying to escape from the orphanage, from any adoptive parents foolish enough to take her home for a trial run, from all of the rules and fences that orphanage life is all about.
But when Alli does escape, she finds that life on the streets is not so easy. And she learns that she can’t trust anyone, but also she can’t live without trusting someone. In fact, Alli must trust a thief, maybe even become a thief, if she is going to survive. She may have to commit herself to follow the rules of the Thieves’ Guild if she wants to remain free of the orphanage, but is that a trade-off she’s willing to make?
Alli is spunky, independent, resourceful, and outspoken, but she also has her own code of conduct that gets tested and crowded by the necessities of survival on the streets. At first, she’s not sure she should steal at all, but she soon realizes that in order to eat she will have to take food from market stalls. The trash cans are not an adequate source of nourishment. Then, Alli get caught in a situation in which she must choose to join the Thieves Guild and become a professional thief or choose to die a slow and painful death. She chooses the Guild, but not without some qualms. What is all of this thieving doing to her soul?
This debut novel by an Oklahoma author has a lot of action and character development, but it also tries to deal with the deeper questions inherent in a story where thieves are the protagonists, the “good guys” to some extent. Is it really fine to steal from the rich, just not the poor? How do you decide who’s rich and who’s poor? Is violence or at least the threat of violence an inexorable part of being a thief? If so, where does one draw the line? Do haughty, selfish rich people deserve to die protecting their valuables? If they do, is it the thief’s fault or the owner’s? Is there “always a price” for everything you get in life? What if someone else ends up paying the price for your survival?
Perhaps the sequel to Rules for Thieves, Shadow Thieves, will answer some of those questions as Alli “must risk everything to save her new family from a rogue organization that is threatening the Thieves Guild’s existence—and the lives of all its members.” I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes out in June, 2018.