A nefarious family of thieves, whose talent in that area goes back generations, suddenly spawns a klutz. What is the poor boy to do? That is the premise of The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey, a middle grade fiction/fantasy that is likely to engage even a reluctant reader in its fast-paced action.
Jaxter is striving hard to be worthy of the Grimjinx family name- notorious to the town guards and suspicious to the town officials. Even the local populace clutches their purses when they see the family in the crowd (of course by that time their money is long since gone). Unfortunately, when Jaxter gets involved in the family business things go wrong, really wrong. It was not exactly his fault the house they were burgling burned down, and it was just particularly bad luck it happened to be the mayor’s place. Right?
Farrey makes not only the male protagonist, Jaxter, a fully realized person, but also his kick-ass girl sidekick who, while part of the ruling class, would like nothing so much as to join forces with the family of thieves. Actually, there are multiple strong female characters including a reclusive scientific/magic investigator who is redolent of the charm and quirkiness of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler (from E. L. Konigsberg’s classic of the same name).
The author does a decent job of world building- makes it interesting enough so that we know we are not here in our regular time/place, but does not overwhelm with intricate details that would slow the action. And action there is, with ominous disclosures about what the Grimjinx’s have done/are doing, the unintended consequences of their plan for the next big score for this family of thieves and grifters, how they try to rise to the occasion to save their town of Vengekeep (including the traditional quest that has twists, deceptions, illumination of personal values, etc). The book is great fun, and also funny. It is similar in flavor to some of Terry Pratchett’s fantasies, with their typical cleverness, closest to his Tiffany Aching series books. Possibly a closer comparison is to the Myth, Inc. series books by Asprin. The Vengekeep Prophecies is characterized as the first of a series, and based on this book it will be worth looking for the next title.