First up, it’s impossible to read The Nowhere Thief without singing the title to the tune of The Beatles’ “Nowhere man.” Though that might just be if you’re pushing 50. I would guess the book’s target audience of around 10 upwards, probably won’t be inspired in the same way. Nevertheless, even without the fab four, The Nowhere Thief is a fab read.
What is The Nowhere Thief?
The Nowhere Thief is a multiverse story aimed at middle-grade readers, written by Alice M. Ross and published by Nosy Crow.
Elspeth has a secret gift. She can travel to other worlds. She lives in an alternate United Kingdom, where most things are the same but some of the larger yet inconsequential details are different. (The capital city is called “Lunden,” for example). Elspeth’s mum runs an antique shop; a failing antique shop. The rent is due and sales are down, but Eslpeth has discovered if she travels to a neighboring reality and brings back items from there, she can sell them for a reasonable amount of money.
Crime, of course, does not pay, and it’s not long before Elspeth’s actions catch up with her. Forced to flee from the draconian law enforcement services of the universe next door, she is rescued by Idris; a boy of roughly the same age, who, it turns out, has very similar talents. Elspeth’s abilities, however, are even more special. She can carry items between realities, which is much rarer than just traveling between them. This means all sorts of people are interested in finding Elspeth.
Discovering that her abilities are sought after is bad enough, but to make matters worse, using her powers seems to have terrifying meteorological side effects. When her mum goes missing, Elspeth must make a choice, trust in Mr. Persimmon from “The Council,” or run away with Idris, a boy she’s only just met.
Elspeth finds herself hurtling headlong through a bewildering multiverse, filled with countless variations of Earth. Everything she knows about her powers and her family are going to be called into question as she tries to rescue her missing mother. Who can she trust, and who, truly, is a friend, and who is her foe?
Why Read The Nowhere Thief?
Who doesn’t love a good multiverse story? Whether it be something from Marvel or a more whimsical tale like the excellent Alfie Fleet series. The canvas of infinite possibility allows authors to run riot. Alice M. Ross is fairly restrained in Nowhere Thief. This might be a multiverse story but it has some rules, which don’t allow for huge changes from what we know.
These subtle differences are part of what lends the novel its power. We take our own world, and in particular, our liberty, for granted. The Nowhere Thief imagines how different types of regimes might curtail our freedom, serving as a gentle introduction to autocracies and dystopian futures. The world-building is what makes this book so good. I suspect that more novels will follow, and it will be interesting to see what other realms we visit, moving forward.
Characterization is solid, if not remarkable. I found Elspeth’s conscience-free pilfering irritating at first, but during the novel, she grows and perhaps understands that there is no such thing as a victimless crime. More interesting is the interplay between Idris and his mother, who comes into the book later. She is a complicated character, not evil in the tradition of children’s stories, but most definitely unpleasant and not a very good parent.
As the story progresses, the lens pulls back, so that we see, as is often the way for parents who have large responsibilities to the outside world, family life suffers. Does her situation provide justification for her actions? Perhaps. Will she have a chance for redemption? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
All in all, the central mystery and its denouement are satisfying. The alternate universes make the novel an interesting read, as you’re never quite sure what’s around the corner. This is an exciting start to what I’m sure will become an engrossing series.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.