Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Welcome to the tyrannical city of Jewel, where impatience is a sin and boldness is a crime.

Goldie Roth has lived in Jewel all her life. Like every child in the city, she wears a silver guardchain and is forced to obey the dreaded Blessed Guardians. She has never done anything by herself and won’t be allowed out on the streets unchained until Separation Day.

When Separation Day is canceled, Goldie, who has always been both impatient and bold, runs away, risking not only her own life but also the lives of those she has left behind. In the chaos that follows, she is lured to the mysterious Museum of Dunt, where she meets the boy Toadspit and discovers terrible secrets. Only the cunning mind of a thief can understand the museum’s strange, shifting rooms. Fortunately, Goldie has a talent for thieving.

Which is just as well, because the leader of the Blessed Guardians has his own plans for the museum—plans that threaten the lives of everyone Goldie loves. And it will take a daring thief to stop him. . . .

Museum of Thieves is a thrilling tale of destiny and danger, and of a courageous girl who has never been allowed to grow up—until now.

You can read an excerpt here – or listen to an audio excerpt here, read by Claudia Black.


Confession – I’m a museum nerd. A full fledged, card carrying, Smithsonian loving, history geek. Pack a delightful fantasy adventure into a fantastical museum, and to me it’s like Christmas morning – add to that careful plotting and deft characterization and you have Museum of Thieves.

The world of Museum of Thieves is an original, fascinating place – as for the Museum itself, think Narnia, if Narnia had taken everything scary from its history and stuffed in into one place, where it all lives on, forgotten and ignored, barely held back from bursting forth and wreaking havoc once again. It is a fantastic metaphor for the power of history. The city of Jewel, the home of the museum, is the antithesis of the museum in every way – a world sanitized of fear and danger, filled with citizens so ridiculously over-protected they have forgotten how to think and act for themselves. This strictly enforced infantilism makes it shockingly easy for The Fugleman, leader of the Blessed Guardians, to enact his scheme to use the museum for his own nefarious purposes.

Enter Goldie, a young girl who runs away and hides in the museum, where she struggles to overcome her own indoctrinated helplessness. Not only does she have to learn to protect herself, soon she is called on to help protect the museum and the entire city from what the museum could unleash. I really enjoy Goldie – she is exactly the right combination of daring and afraid. Her courage isn’t the lack of fear, it’s the struggle to overcome it. Goldie also has the perfect foil in Toadspit, a boy who lives in the museum – Toadspit (who chose his own name) is the perfect blend of bratty, resentful, and loyal, and the scenes of the two of them together are the heart and soul of this book.

I almost had one complaint about this story, and that was triggered by the first scene of The Fugleman and The Protector together, when Fugleman is obviously setting his Evil Scheme of Evil into motion. It was so overt, I felt mustache twirling could have broken out at any moment, and The Protector, his opposition, seemed naive to the extent it strained credulity. But then Goldie’s arc made clear all the reasons for that naivety, and the scene fell neatly into place within the larger architecture of the story, which smothered my objections. And happily, after that one scene, there was never such telegraphing again – The Fugleman got down to business and everyone quickly came to realize something shady was going on.

Tanner goes on to dole out tidbits that deepen our understanding of exactly what The Fugleman is:

The Protector’s scalp prickled and, for the first time in years, she found herself remembering her seventh birthday. Her father, a talented whitesmith, had made her a mechanical dog. When she wound it up with a tiny key, it whirred along behind her, wagging its tail. She had loved that dog the minute she saw it. And so had her brother – loved it even more because it was hers. Loved it especially because it was hers. He was only five, but by nightfall he had somehow persuaded their father that the dog was really meant for him. With an awkward apology to his daughter, their father handed it over. Within a day the dog was broken, and the clever little key lost forever.

Across the board, I love the character work in this book. Tanner has sown the story with little discerning insights into all her characters, making them all authentic and unique.

I also love what this story has to say about what happens to a society when fear is given rule and too much is sacrificed in the name of safety. It’s depressingly relevant to today’s world.

While this book does have interesting things to say, it is first and foremost a fun fantasy adventure. On a pure story level, it surprised and delighted me, and there is much, much more to be explored, in this world and in the museum. I for one am delighted there are more books to come.

So if you’ve ever had Professor (Indiana) Jones type daydreams of exploring dusty corners, lost worlds, and forgotten history, you will love this book.

Fans of Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember, definitely check this one out.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Book Aunt says:

This new fantasy is something of a parable, which can be a didactic choice. But Tanner mostly gets away with it, thanks to some colorful world building and equally colorful characters…Museum of Thieves is a lively adventure, a nice start to a new fantasy trilogy for middle grades.

The Arlington Public Library blog says:

Museum of Thieves was an exciting read and never failed to surprise me…This book is full of action, lots of mystery, and is the first in a trilogy. If you love fantasy, adventure, and some very odd characters, this is the book for you!

BookKids says:

I found the spectacular world-building of this book to be its best feature. It’s true that there is a great adventure and some interesting characters, but the twist and turns of the city of Jewel and the museum it contains overshadows everything else. It’s a fun, intriguing book that I found I couldn’t put down