Book Review: The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green
Every now and then, I read something that makes me wonder why the author isn’t an absolute household name. Something so clever, so well written and engaging, I’m here thinking ‘why isn’t this guy as famous as Neil Gaiman?’
Simon R. Green is hardly a nobody; he has a long career and a stack of books to his name, but he’s not that big a household name, even in his genre of urban fantasy, and I really don’t get why, because this book is an absolute gem, and it’s far from his only one.
Talking of Neil Gaiman, the world Simon R. Green creates here is definitely reminiscent of Neverwhere’s London Below. It’s evident from the opening of Chapter One that this is not quite the London we know, and things rapidly get weirder from there as Gideon Sable - master thief, not his real name - puts together an unlikely crew to pull off an impossible heist, stealing a priceless treasure from the worst man in the world, and getting away with it.
One thing that’s really clever is that the chapter headings and the book itself are like a Guide To How To Structure An Urban Fantasy Novel. If you know anything about plot structure it’s really obvious - Act 1 sets up the premise and introduces the characters etc. The whole thing is like a guide to worldbuilding through storytelling rather than exposition, just an absolute masterclass in how it’s done in a single, 200 page novel. There’s a Chekov’s Gun device introduced nice and early to set up the winning twist, every character has a valuable role to play, every action is intentional and part of the overall plot, there are no red herrings because there don’t need to be.
The only quibble I have with this book is that it falls victim to the Smurfette Principle trap; in a crew of five, there’s only one woman. Even if Annie Anybody’s ability to become anyone she wants does mean she plays several different characters over the course of the story, I don’t see any particular reason why either or both the Wild Card or the Damned couldn’t have been female - maybe not the Ghost considering his eventual fate. But seriously, there are two named female characters in the book - Annie, and the client - and that’s it. It’s not a huge cast, but it could definitely be better divided.
I’d love to see Gideon Sable return for more adventures, and I hope, if he does, he gets an expanded and more diverse crew - while it wasn’t explicitly stated, they did seem to be all-white as well, which isn’t particularly representative of London’s extremely diverse population, either.
Even with these issues, however, the book is so cleverly and beautifully written that I cannot otherwise find fault with it. I’m giving it five stars - and I hope to see more stories in this brilliant world in the future.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.