A beautiful princess has traveled to Memphis, the grand capital of ancient Egypt, seeking a husband. She asks each of her suitors the same questions – what is the cleverest thing you’ve ever done, and what is the wickedest? But it isn’t until the sun is setting that a mysterious stranger appears at her tent, offering a tale that may just win the princess’s heart and provide the answers she was seeking.
The Treasured Thief is a retelling of an Egyptian myth known as the “Treasure Thief” – clever wordplay, right? To sum up Campfire’s version, the pharaoh tasks his master builder to create a mighty vault for the wealth of Egypt. The builder did so, but Pharaoh failed to do a background check – this man owed a great sum of money and built a secret passage into the vault. Savagely beaten by the men he owed, the builder confessed to his sons about the debt and the passageway. His sons break into the Great Vault and steal enough treasure to pay off the family’s obligations and bury their father. But they continue to find reasons to return for more, until Pharaoh finally notices that his wealth is diminishing. Thus begins a series of traps set by the pharaoh in an attempt to catch the treasure thief, leading to a story of sacrifice, cunning, and devotion.
I was unfamiliar with the myth of the “Treasure Thief” before reading this book. I enjoyed the overall story – Akhenta, the youngest son of the master builder and titular character, is well-meaning and clever, overcoming great obstacles. However, while I am no expert when it comes to Egyptian history or politics, it felt like the tale had been altered to fit in a few modern beliefs. For example, Akhenta’s older brother spends a scene lamenting that it’s not fair that only the rich can secure a place in the afterlife. “It does not fit in with the notion of just and loving gods. It seems like a ploy of the rich to keep the poor in check!” I haven’t ever heard the Egyptian pantheon referred to as just and loving gods. Author Ryan Foley gives the thieving sons something of a Robin Hood quality – they steal from the rich pharaoh in order to pay their father’s debts and keep their mother and sisters from becoming slaves. I did a little research on the original myth and there’s no mention of a debt or noble reasons for stealing. Instead, the builder is simply greedy and dies (of natural causes) before he can take advantage of his treachery, but not before imparting this knowledge to his greedy, quick-witted sons.
Foley and Nagar don’t shy away from showing slavery or violence, but continue to comment on it through their characters. For example, as Akhenta relates his tale to the princess, he tells her about his shame that Egypt uses slaves. The dialogue is stilted and awkward, often taking the reader out of the story. The writing takes an interesting myth and drains it of most of its charm and character.
Sachin Nagar’s artwork for The Treasured Thief matches the dialogue for awkwardness. I was reminded of several animated features from the late ’90s and early ’00s – The Prince of Egypt, The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Road to El Dorado – because of the character design. Character proportions are distractingly off; the flowing, rounded lines of chests, arms, and legs end in ridiculously tiny wrists and wide floppy hands attached to claw-like fingers. Many of the faces suffer from lazy eye, with pupils pointing opposite directions. Several images are reused, giving a déjà vu effect to certain panels (I’m sure I’ve already seen the pharaoh smirking this way… oh yeah, 16 pages earlier and with a slight change in clothing color). Nagar’s brief biography describes him as using his technological skills when obtaining his diploma in animation and this use of technology is reflected in the art of The Treasured Thief. Many of the backgrounds look like flat computer animation. The sound effects are blandly pasted on the page. Objects in motion are painfully blurred out of focus. The only pop comes from the vivid colors – perhaps the best part of the art style. Having seen some of Nagar’s work on the award-winning Ravana, I’m puzzled as to how the same artist is responsible for both works.
As with other Campfire graphic novels, they include a collection of related true stories at the end of the book. This section is titled “Sticky Fingers: All About Thieves.” Brief, interesting paragraphs about the theft of the Mona Lisa, D.B. Cooper’s robbery, and the history of priest holes are featured. However, Foley’s stiff writing continues throughout this section. When describing the mystery surrounding D.B. Cooper’s identity, he writes “Nobody knows till today, and the search is still going on.”