The Rose Thief by Claire Buss is a loving homage to the works of Terry Pratchett, with particular nods towards the Guards books in the Discworld series. This is both the book’s strength and its weakness.
Ned and his Thief-catchers, a group of magical investigators including a sprite, a nymph and a firefly, have been given 24 hours to find the criminal who has been stealing the emperor’s prize roses. Along the way they will encounter warlocks, mermaids, journalists, smugglers, family, alternate dimensions, love and its loss. The cast of characters are engagingly quirky, the ideas on display are strong, and there are some genuinely funny moments. The pace never dipped, and Buss’s style is readable throughout.
But I have two problems with The Rose Thief. Firstly, the Pratchett parallels are perhaps a little too on the nose. For example, the description of one region of the city is such a familiar riff on Pratchett’s Shades in Ankh-Morpork that it left me wanting something different. The strongest elements in the book are all the new ideas, and there are plenty, but they are somewhat buried under the Pratchett pastiche (the Pratchiche?). Secondly, the plot is sacrificed to the need for jokes. After a little early set up, there is very little investigation in the Thief-catchers’ story. Ned spends the first half of the book shuttling back and forth between his office and the palace, the original mystery wraps up well before the end of the book to be replaced by a quest which feels rather arbitrary and doesn’t make a great deal of sense. I spent too much of the book wondering why things happened the way they did.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. While it has its flaws, it was fun, and some of the ideas are well worth further exploration. If Buss writes a follow-up, I will happily read it, but I can’t give The Rose Thief top marks. Pratchett is a tough act to follow, you need to be funny, clever and really tightly plotted. The Rose Thief accomplishes some of that, if that works for you, the book would be well worth your time, but for me, it still falls short. Three stars.
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