From its title, cover and first few pages, Thieves and Kings might provoke the theme of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, but Mark Oakley’s first volume certainly doesn’t fall into this category. Indeed, this story hovers around a princess and her thief and confidant. When the indecisive king creates a competition for his malicious son, Kangar, and benevolent daughter, Katara, to participate in a competition to become the heir to the throne, the young thief Rubel helps Katara, thereby guaranteeing a better kingdom and close friendship between the two.
Four years have passed since Rubel helped Katara win, and during that time he has spent a great deal of time sailing the seas. As his ship returns to Highborn, Rubel plans to find out about his missing grandfather and also reunite with old friends now that his contract is finished. Unfortunately, his captain believes otherwise and demands that Rubel stay with the ship. Defying his captain, Rubel flees into the city, believing that he will find solace in friends. But since he has departed, his friends have grown up, died, or in the case of his wizard friend, Quinton Zempfester, left under mysterious circumstances. He seeks out Varkias the imp in hopes that at least he will still be around.
Though he does find his demonic friend, Rubel also encounters the treacherous and malevolent Shadow Lady who tempts and will continue to tempt Rubel to follow her. But Rubel is a thief, and thieves have a sense of honor and loyalty, particularly since he is the Queen’s thief. With Varkias by his side, Rubel returns to the city to find Katara, only to hear rumors that she has been sick and acting strange lately and might have possibly disappeared. Rubel must find his queen and help her if he can.
Part graphic novel, part illustrated story, Thieves and Kings uniquely blends sequences of black-and-white panels with several pages of prose. The prose is often encompassed by additional panels or action sequences. This mix, though offputting at first, grows on the reader as one realizes that twice the story can fit into one graphic novel. In addition to the five issues from the series contained in this graphic novel, it also features a short story about Princess Katara and her encounter with a bridge troll.
With swordfights and gunfights and chases on foot and horse, action is never more than a few page turns away. The cunning and elusive Rubel continually runs into city guards and others around every corner. The banter between himself and Varkias provides a decent dose of comic relief.
At times the story is permeated with a fairy-tale ambience. Thieves and Kings tells a tale of youthful adventure that could entice young adults and adults alike. Though the story doesn’t start with a “Once upon a time…” readers will anxious to find out if it ends with a “happily ever after.”