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Patron Thief of the Bread of Life

By Corliss Jacobs

I have often heard it said that the right books have a way of finding their way to the right person. This is the case with me and The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar. I found it in the bookstore and started to read it, immediately feeling a connection with the story as soon as I read the first page about the lonely gargoyle perched atop the crumbling cathedral. Later, I received it as a Christmas gift from my mom and dad (thanks, guys!). The more pages I turned the more I fell in love with the rich story and its brilliant cast of characters. I knew it would be the perfect book to share with moms and kids alike. It has one of the most grounded and real depictions I’ve ever seen of family, repentance, and finding your voice when you never knew you had one. I am staring at the book right now on my writing desk, already thinking about when I can read it again. That’s how profound its impression was on me.

In the fictional, French inspired kingdom of Avilogne, eight-year-old Duck was saved from the River Saluire as a baby and was raised by a ragtag little gang of street orphans who call themselves the Crowns. Duck learned from an early age how to bring home their daily bread by stealing whatever she could find for herself and the other hungry mouths of the gang. Duck prefers to stay quiet whenever she can, keeping her head down and her mouth closed. Gnat, the band’s clever leader, gives her orders. Ash, the boy who rescued her and took her in, is her voice, speaking for her whenever she has to respond to someone. She is content with this life of keeping her mouth shut save only to fill it with food. When the little gang decides to stop in the city of Odierne, the Crowns run afoul of the most dangerous gang in Avilogne, the Red Swords. Forced to stop stealing, Gnat comes up with a plan - one of them will pose as an apprentice for the town baker, and smuggle the rest of them the food and coin they need to survive.

That job is given to an unwilling Duck, who suddenly finds herself living with and working under Master Griselde, the kind hearted yet no-nonsense owner of the bakery. Duck finds herself in a difficult balancing act of sorts, trying to do well as an apprentice to keep her job while also trying to slip food to her friends without getting caught. As time goes by, Duck finds herself growing closer to Griselde, who showers her with nothing but kindness, care, and loving understanding. Duck begins to feel herself growing and changing more than she ever thought she could as she feels her connection with the bakery deepen. Caught between two worlds, the little girl has a difficult choice to make: Does she continue scamming the baker, staying loyal to her family of thieves? Or will she devote her life entirely to her apprenticeship, choosing her new family of bakers? Is there any way for her to choose both? What will happen when the truth of her deception comes to light? As tensions rise, an old gargoyle sits on top of a forgotten, half finished cathedral waiting to finally have his chance to do what gargoyles are meant to do: protect.

My favorite thing about Eagar’s writing style is that she uses the basic formulas of writing a story perfectly. I can see where she laid its foundation and built it up - establishing the main character and her motive, presenting the setting, introducing the conflict - all of it was done flawlessly. This may not seem like a big deal, since writing a story’s structure is one of the basic tenets of crafting a story, but it is quite a feat to write a compelling hero’s journey with patterns and tools we readers have seen before over and over again and Eagar does it beautifully. I also love the character and journey of Duck. Right away I became invested in her story - her desire to prove herself to the Crowns, her lack of confidence in herself, and her fear of what could happen if she fails all felt very real. The cast of characters around her make the main conflict of the story very engaging. On the one hand, I didn’t want to see Duck and her hungry family of kids starve to death. On the other hand, I adored the jovial yet firm Griselde enough that it pained me to see her deceived and stolen from. This made Duck’s dishonest actions feel just like what they were - criminal acts. That’s another good rule of writing that Eagar uses well. We, the readers, know that things like stealing and killing and mass destruction are bad things. But if a bad guy starts destroying a city in a movie, or if the clever pickpocket character steals a wallet, we don’t feel very much because it isn’t personal. Readers mostly view a story through the eyes of a character or characters, therefore what is most important to the character becomes the most important thing to us. That is why we feel more when the bad guy kills the main character’s best friend rather than an entire city, or when the pickpocket steals from someone who needed the money in that wallet to save their sick child. When the conflict is personal, it makes for a more engaging story.

I was completely invested in Duck’s predicament from beginning to end. Her character arc is incredible. The more she learns from Griselde, the more she discovers about herself and the world she thought she knew. Griselde is amazing, too - a cheerful character with a positive outlook on the world despite how much she has lost to it. She is always forgiving and patient with Duck, sticking up for her and forgiving her every time Duck thinks she is going to be angry with her. Griselde reminds me of Jesus Christ - always there as a coach, friend and comforter no matter what we do. In the end, Griselde doesn’t just teach Duck how to bake bread for feeding people’s stomachs. She shows her little apprentice through example how to bake and give out Christ’s bread of life, in acts of kindness towards everyone she meets and always lending a helping hand to those who need it.

This entire book is very tightly written - not a plot beat is wasted or irrelevant. The writing is descriptive enough that we can form a picture of the world and people in it, yet leaves out enough that we can still use our imaginations. Even though we largely stay in one place throughout the story - namely the village of Odierne and Griselde’s bakery, while occasionally popping over to a forgotten cathedral - I never felt bored or like the story was dragging.

The poor lonely gargoyle on the cathedral has such a heart wrenching story that I wished I could reach through the pages and give him a hug, stones and all. Both his and Duck’s arcs build and build until they culminate in a fantastic climax that was followed up with one of the most true and satisfying endings to a “liar revealed” story I had ever seen. It has a great message about the bonds of family and true repentance. (The fact that this book did such a good job with the “liar revealed” trope is incredible, since it has been run into the ground over the years.) I won’t spoil any more, though - I’ll let you read it for yourself!

I recommend this book to anyone who can read it, but generally this one would be great for ages twelve and up. It’s a brilliant find, and frankly I’m shocked that I didn’t hear about how good it was when it was published last year. It’s a well done story with a tight plot and wonderful characters - who could ask for more?

Warning: This book has a few paragraphs here and there that are pretty irreverent towards God, but it’s only a paragraph here and there and it’s only from the gargoyle. I know every parent on here has different standards, but just in case you don’t want your child exposed to that at all, I’m letting you know now.) This one gets 4.5/5 stars from me. The Patron Thief of Bread is a rich story with a satisfying narrative that will also give you a serious craving for fresh baked bread - and a sudden desire to start a bakery.

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