Gareth Ward, The Traitor and the Thief, Walker Books Australia, August 2017, 352pp, $17.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781925381504
Sin is a street urchin, the kind that picks pockets and stops time. He happens to get caught by a spy who then takes him to what amounts to basically spy academy — Covert Operations Group (COG) training grounds, or in this case, palace. There, Sin learns about COG’s history and a little bit of his own past (which is a big part of the book’s overall plot too), while training to join its ranks. This is the main part of the book until the last quarter (approximately) where the adventure kicks in and he finds himself searching for a traitor, trying to stop a war and saving the founder of COG.
This steampunk adventure is, overall, less of an adventure and more of a mystery. Sure, there is an adventure of sorts in the end of the book, but that is a testament to the book’s unevenness.
I enjoyed the characterisation in The Traitor and the Thief. Sin is a fish out of water in the high society of COG, and those stories are always fun. Most of all, I enjoyed Zonda Chubb, the unfortunately named female character that makes the first overtures of friendship to Sin. She defies all stereotypes, which made me excited until I realised there was one she did not defy – that of the love interest. When the adventure is at its best in the book, she is inexplicably sidelined for the few chapters dealing with redemption for the bully, Velvet – another misdirection by the blurb. The blurb made me think Velvet plays much more of a part in Sin’s story, but he views her as a bully until he is forced to join forces with her, instead of Zonda, in the most exciting few chapters of the book.
As a result, the danger and the excitement of that part was mostly ho-hum. For all the careful attention given to Zonda and Sin’s relationship, it was jarring to find her out of the action at one of the most important parts of Sin’s story.
The other characters are drawn with broad strokes and just enough to give them enough colour to be interesting to readers because most of the attention in the bulk of the book is given to Zonda and building Sin’s relationship with her. Theirs is an easy friendship, one in which secrets are shared, and which eventually culminates in them working wonderfully together before she’s sidelined for Velvet. Sin may be a street urchin but he quickly respects Zonda, urges and supports her in her training and thinks she can do anything she puts her mind to – and that is the kind of relationship all readers should see more of.
There is no doubt that Ward has created an exciting world here, of spies, steampunk, secret organisations and even more secret projects, but I think this book would have been better served had Sin and Zonda worked together through all of it, instead of her being out of the action of the most exciting parts of the book.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow