The Traitor and the Thief

Category: Fantasy / steampunk

Audience: Pre-teens and teens primarily, but a fun, light read for adults, too. Minimal violence and no sex or foul language.

In The Traitor and the Thief, Gareth Ward’s debut novel, a fourteen-year-old boy named Sin is plucked off the streets and given an opportunity to earn a place in the Covert Operations Group (COG). COG is a clandestine organisation dedicated to preventing war, even though it puts them at odds with their own government’s plan for word domination. Despite the dangers, Sin jumps at the chance—anything is better than living on the streets—and soon finds himself at a school for spies. But not all is well at the school. He becomes embroiled in a hunt for a traitor against COG, with one revelation after another making all his newfound friends suspect. Sin has to use his street smarts to catch the traitor, and to find out why he, specifically, was targeted for recruitment.

This book, a fast-paced romp through a steampunk alternate universe, won this year’s Sir Julius Vogel award for Best Youth Novel. It is a bit of a mashup of other sources, including at least Spy Kids, Dickens, J K Rowling, and maybe Girl Genuis (the description of a battle with a training bot reminded me of this), but it’s well done, and the author has his own playful flair for language. He follows in the tradition of Dickens and Rowling in giving his characters entertaining names: Nimrod Barm, the loony genius. The staff at the school: Eldritch Moons, Noir, Stoneheart, and the aristocrat Lillith Von Darque.

The dialog is also very good, and there’s never doubt about which character is speaking:

“Cat got your tonguearooney?” said Zonda.
“You what? I ain’t seen no cat,” said Sin.
“I mean you’re not your usual epigrammatic self.”
“Still not getting your puff.”

I did have some difficulties with the name ‘Sin’. Not because of the religious connotations—I got past those within a couple of pages—but because my eyes kept playing tricks on me, and reading the name as ‘She’, especially at the beginning of sentences. She hauled himself… Wait, what? Oh, that was Sin hauled himself… Having to back up and reread was weird, and distracting.

Other than that little glitch, and one place where I was jolted out of my willing suspension of disbelief (Mouse over for spoiler.), I enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel.

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