Our Favorite Thieves

A couple weeks ago, I sent a guest post about thieves in fantasy fiction to one blogger. She liked it, promised to post it, and... nothing. Today, I decided to check her blog, and bingo - my post was there, posted several days ago. Nobody knew about it, because she forgot to tell me. In retaliation, I'm re-posting it here, without her link:


I’m sure you detest the thieves who broke into your neighbors’ house last summer and stole a bunch of expensive electronics. Or the pickpockets in the crowded Mediterranean market who stole your cousin’s wallet. Or the loathsome identity thieves who hacked into your coworker’s account and stole her passwords. But so many of us enjoy reading about charismatic thieves in fantasy fiction. The list Thieves on GoodReads includes 409 titles, many of them bestsellers. Over 700 readers voted on that list. Why?


I think the difference between real life thieves and fantasy thieves is in their goals and their victims. The real thieves steal for money, from regular people—us. No ambiguity there. The fantasy thieves… well, that’s a different story. Some of them, our favorite thieves, steal exclusively from bad guys and often have nobler purposes: to save a lover, to rescue a princess, to liberate prisoners, to feed the poor, or in the extreme cases, to save their own necks. And we, the readers, cheer for them.


Seventeen-year-old Eriale, the protagonist of my fantasy novel “Almost Adept”, is not a thief. She is a magician. Sheltered and adored by her family until recently, she is on her own for the first time in her life, on a quest to prove her Adept potential. And she repeatedly stumbles into situations where she has no other option but to steal.

Her first encounter with thievery happens, when she hears a magical call for help. Gem fairies—the tiny elementals living in a tourmaline crystal—are dying. After their crystal had been cut off their mother lode, they need a magician to feed them magic. But their owner, a gem merchant, mocks Eriale, when she asks to buy the crystal from him.

Compelled to help the fairies and pressed for time—they would die if she didn’t hurry—she steals them from the merchant. She doesn’t feel guilt or remorse. She tried to do the right thing, but when he wouldn’t listen to her explanations, she did what was necessary to save the sentient beings.


Her second thievery occurs later on her journey, when she whisks a man out of a local prison, liberating him from the torturers. She is positive that whatever the man had done, he doesn’t deserve to be tortured to death. Nobody deserves such a terrible fate.


Her third thievery is a combination of revenge and need, simultaneously solving her money problem and freeing her to pursue a complex and dangerous magical task, the task that could benefit too many people to count but could also kill her. If she is risking her life for the others, the least they can do is pay her expenses, right?


In all cases, she steals to help strangers, and her victims are invariably bullies or swindlers. If she could achieve her goals any other way, she would, and the same is true for most fantasy thieves. J.R.R Tolkien and Rick Riordan, Scott Lynch and Cornelia Funke, William Goldman and Brandon Sanderson, and many other talented writers gave us the charming, roguish thieves who steal out of altruism … almost. Altruistic thievery—what a nice oxymoron. Fantasy is truly a fantastic genre.