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The Thief Lord is a children's fantasy novel by German author Cornelia Funke, who also authored The Inkworld Trilogy. The Thief Lord follows a ragtag bunch of runaways and orphans living in the unseen parts of Venice, led by the titular "Thief Lord". Unfortunately two of them, Bo and Prosper, are pursued by the Private Detective Victor hired by their oppressive aunt. Victor's presence is just the catalyst for other forces that test the band's loyalty to each other.The novel's big themes include growing up and family. In 2006 a film adaptation was made.
Anti-Villain: Victor isn't actually villainous; he's looking for the boys because he's been hired to and because he rightfully believes that five is a bit too young to be getting along without parents, but he is also extremely sympathetic to their plight. Later, he's even willing to lie to the Hartilebs to try and put them off Prosper and Bo's trail.
The Conte and Esther also get more sympathetic closer to the end.
The Artful Dodger: Riccio is something of this. Unlike most of the other kids, he quite enjoys stealing for a living and, when some of the others consider living with Ida, he is disgusted by the prospect of being told what to do, going to school, and bathing regularly. However it is mentioned that, when he lived with Mosca and Hornet, and before Scipio began helping them out, his life was anything but happy and carefree.
Beneath the Mask: Scipio is a completely different person when he is with the other kids and when he is around his father. This is obvious even to Victor, who had met him only briefly. Interestingly, these are both masks for his true personality, which is somewhere in between.
Call Back: At one point, when the children pick up a letter from the Conte at Barbarossa's shop, Barbarossa presses them for details about what the Conte asked them to steal, and Bo taunts him with stories about its appearance, mentioning diamonds and pearls. Barbarossa later sneaks to the Isola Segreta and threatens Morosina with harm, demanding that she show him the treasure with "huge diamonds and pearls."
Click Hello: Ida does this (except without the click because her rifle doesn't actually work) to the kids when they break into her house in the middle of the night and start arguing amongst themselves.
Cool Big Sis: Ida isn't actually anyone's sister, but she fits the character description.
Cool Mask: Scipio wears a black, bird-beaked plague doctor mask that effectively creeps the other kids out.
Contrived Coincidence: Victor likely wouldn't have found Prosper and Bo, and by extension wouldn't have been involved in nearly as much of the plot, if he hadn't happened to run into Prosper while he was out getting pizza.
Disappeared Dad: Prosper and Bo's late mother is mentioned several times, but never their father.
Don't Split Us Up: This is the premise for the entire book. After their mother dies, Propser and Bo's aunt decides that she only wants one of the boys—cute, cuddly, five-year-old Bo. Prosper is sent away. This leads to Prosper kidnapping his brother, running to Venice, and finding the rest of the gang while avoiding the private detective his aunt sends after him.
Dye or Die: Bo is too easily recognizable with his blond baby-angel curls, so when Prosper realizes Victor is after them, Hornet cuts Prop's hair very short and dyes Bo's black with ink. Not played entirely straight, however, as Victor still recognizes the boys immediately the next time he sees them.
Kick the Dog: We already knew that Barbarossa was a crooked, greedy bastard (and not even a magnificent one at that), but his actions on the Conte's island (intending to rob an old man, dragging a little girl around by her hair, and poisoning the Conte's dogs) show his true colors.
Known Only by Their Nickname: Hornet. Even Mosca and Riccio, who have lived with her for months and were probably friends before that don't know what her real name is.
This actually becomes important to the plot when she is captured by the police and taken in by the Merciful Sisters, but Victor and Ida don't know how to find out where she is because they don't know her name. Prosper finds out when he sees that she has written it inside some of her books.
Also, the Thief Lord to Barbarossa. They have never met. Barbarossa has only ever dealt with the other children, whom he thinks work for the ''adult'' master thief.
Lima Syndrome: How the children befriend Victor. However, they don't actually let him go; he manages to escape on his own, and some of the kids still mistrust him even after he gives his word of honor that he won't turn them in to the police.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Victor. As a "snoop", it's part of the job description. He even has certain disguises meant specifically to make him look like a dimwitted tourist so he can be as unobtrusive as possible.
Orphan's Plot Trinket: Ida was given the wing for the merry-go-round by the nuns in the orphanage where she grew up.
Parental Abandonment: All the kids suffer this. Prosper and Bo's mother died shortly before the story began and their father is never mentioned; Mosca's family apparently doesn't want anything to do with him; Riccio has nowhere to go but an orphanage; Hornet refuses to talk about her past because it makes her too sad, but it's pretty clear that she too has nowhere to go. Even Scipio, whose parents aren't dead but cold and uncaring towards him.
Also Ida, who grew up in an orphanage. And even the Conte and his sister.
Heck, even Victor is implied to have been subjected to this. He mentions that he has run away from home before, wistfully wishes he'd had an older brother to look after him, and has a lot of sympathy for the stray children's plight.
Phantom Thief: The Thief Lord has a reputation with his gang for being one.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played straight with a chapter ending on Hornet's line, "I have a plan." But averted later on when Scipio tells everyone his "crazy idea" to get Ester to adopt toddler Barbarossa. Prosper tells him that there's no way it will work, but then it does.
What Measure Is A Noncute: Applied to humans, strangely. Esther dotes over Bo only because he's a cute, innocent-looking little boy and refuses to take Prosper into her home because he, in Victor's words, "doesn't look like a teddy bear anymore". Once Bo starts acting out, Esther doesn't want anything to do with him.
Wicked Aunt: Esther, from Prosper's POV. She tried to separate the brothers by sending Prosper to a boarding school, which is why the boys run away.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Hornet uses this to great effect in order to get Victor distracted and off the kids' trail. She grabs hold of him and yells like she's being kidnapped. Poor Victor has no idea what's going on, but, mistaken for a "child snatcher", he gets attacked by several outraged onlookers and arrested by the police, allowing the children to sneak away.