My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I came across The Talent Thief in one of those random shelf-browsing moments and was massively pleased to discover it. I did a lot of work in the final year of my MA on gifted and talented characters in children’s literature and The Talent Thief intrigued me from the start.
Adam and Cressida Bloom are orphans, living in a fractious relationship with each other and their guardian, Uncle Brody. One day Cressida Bloom is invited to a Talent competition to showcase her beautiful singing voice. And, due to not wanting to stay at home with their Uncle, the very much not-talented Adam wangles a place for himself on the trip. The two siblings arrive at the competition where they are surrounded by magnificently talented individuals. That is, until something awful starts to happen. The talented children start losing their talents. Somebody – or something – is stealing them.
The Talent Thief is a bit of a interesting book and a little bit of a disappointment all at the same time. It starts so promisingly. And I mean that, it really does start promisingly. We have a machiavellian, moustache-twirling villain who borders on the pantomime but also on the genuinely unnerving. The Talent Thief is a glorious conceit and comes across as a mysterious and distinctly scary entity.
And then we get a little bit awkward. The Talent Thief, it seems, doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it James Bond, Jules Verne or Tim Burton? It is a quandry and, I think, one that is not helped by the illustrations in the book. The first full page illustration appears on p182 (of a 327page book which feels a little poorly balanced but I digress). The illustration is of a spikey mountain scene, all length and cliff, and The Talent Thief takes centre stage in a distinctly gothic-tinged black stylised manner. It’s an awkward image, beautiful in an isolated context, but jarring with a book that to me so far was reading like a fantastical Ruritanian adventure. (I will note here for your information that I am referencing a different edition than that specified in the cover image: Macmillan 2006)
It’s a shame that there’s this unease between the design and the text, for the story itself is quite good. It runs along at an excellent rate and I, on a very nerdy level, appreciated how talent, and the management of talent, was presented. Adam’s a brave, bright hero and I loved the sidekicks that he picked up during the adventure. I did have some slight issue with the ending (it veered off in a very unexpected direction that made me do a bit of a double-take), but I wonder if this is something to do with my inability to grasp the genre of this book.
Readers who enjoyed this book may also enjoy Helen Cresswell’s brilliant Bagthorpe books. Although distinctly more slapstick than The Talent Thief, I found a lot of similarities between the two. The first book in the series is Ordinary Jack