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Sixteen-year-old orphan Rémy Brunel is the headline act at a small, shabby travelling circus. Her grace and extraordinary ability on the high wire and trapeze ensure that she is highly prized by her cruel master, Gustave, but her skills as a jewel thief are what make her invaluable to him.
"...she was the best gem snatcher in Europe, probably in the whole of the world. Rémy had never been caught. And, she thought to herself, I never will be. Never."
One night, after the show, Gustave prepares to send Rémy on her most ambitious mission yet: the theft of the Darya-ye Noor diamond, sister stone to the famous Koh-i Noor. Unfortunately for Rémy, a young detective called Thaddeus Rec has been entrusted with the mission of keeping the stone safe at all costs. The scene is set for a battle of wits and skills, but will either party ultimately come off victorious?
In the opening chapters of The Diamond Thief, Sharon Gosling wastes no time in getting to the thick of the action, painting wonderful word-pictures of life in the dingy backstreets of Victorian London. The murky, smog filled neighbourhood is the perfect backdrop for this engaging piece of gaslight fiction. Gosling has a knack for beautifully descriptive writing, creating rich and vivid settings for the characters to play against.
Rémy, the main protagonist, is a strong, likeable character and the sympathetic way she is written leads the reader to truly care about her fate. She is a good example of one of those exceptional Victorian women who fought against the consensus of society to gain recognition in their own right. On the other hand, Thaddeus, the hero of the tale, seems to merely appear as a foil to the feisty character of Rémy. Despite a promising start in the opening chapter, Thaddeus does not seem to develop much as a character as the book progresses and seems to spend the majority of the time pining over Rémy, who appears aloof and distant.
The book has its fair share of plot twists, but the biggest surprise for me as a reader came in chapter five, when the narrative metamorphosed into something completely new and original with the introduction of a steampunk element. By introducing the character of the 'professor' and his machines, including recording equipment, night vision goggles and tracking devices, Gosling manages to open up the story to a wealth of possible plot developments.
Sadly, the author seems to take a fairly safe and predictable route through the following chapters, and for the most part, the main body of the story appears to lose the momentum and excitement of the early scenes. Some parts of the story seem to descend into incredulity. For example, on more than one occasion, a character is trapped, only to reveal some inexplicable magical ability that helps them to escape in the nick of time. Despite these failings, the book does manage to recover at the end and reach a satisfying conclusion, more in keeping with the tone of the earlier chapters.
The Diamond Thief is an original, exhilarating and fast-paced story with plenty of twists and turns to engage young readers. I loved the steampunk theme, which adds a new dimension to the historical genre and I hope to see more authors incorporating this element into their work in the future.