Thibault has always known he’s boring. As a law student under the purview of the Virtues, he lives as if all aspects of his life, personality, and enjoyment should be bound by those of his profession and god. Straightforward, quiet, and with an ingrained need for justice, but not a drop of charisma or charm, Thibault’s accepted his fate of being unremarkable and unobtrusively trying to help and protect the vulnerable via the law. Thus, he’s a bit taken aback to be sent on a quest by Osten, an Allegory of the Muses, to retrieve Osten’s stolen token—the object that contains an Allegory’s power and spreads their influence. Yet, who is he to question the gods?
Besides, between his desire to right a wrong, the promise of a much-coveted blessing, and the tingles and warmth Thibault feels under Osten’s overwhelming attention, refusing is not an option. However, quests are never simple, and soon Thibault finds himself caring for a baby dragon and working with his longtime crush on a gala for the Allegory who stole Osten’s token. The major benefit of all this sudden uncertainty is spending time with Osten, but when his quest challenges Thibault’s simplistic understanding of the world, his choices may cost Osten everything and see hidden corruption spread unchecked.
Stolen Token is an interesting, pleasant debut. The writing style isn’t one that I favor and there is some awkwardness and abruptness (particularly in the last quarter), but overall I liked it. The premise and story progression is pretty simple and straightforward and has some interesting concepts due to its incorporation of gods, which I feel is its biggest strength. The majority of the gods who oversee human affairs are classified as Virtues, Muses, Idols, and Formulae—the gods of money and rules; arts; disciplines of the body; and science, respectively. The gods’ representatives, the Allegories, live among humans, so there’s the element of the otherworldly mixing with the mundanity of human life; people just go about their business while godly entities walk among them, reminiscent of how many polytheistic religions work. The presence of deities is so taken for granted that Thibault has little knowledge about Allegories, even though humans are integral in shaping their dispositions and moral compasses because they are raised by humans and their upbringing can affect how they carry out their duties. There is enough world building to understand the story and get invested in its makeup, but there’s textual hand-waving of “we don’t ask questions of gods” that glosses over questions and deeper exploration and contributes to the story’s overall new adult, contemporary feel.
Stolen Token is an easy, quiet read; as a short novel, everything moves along fairly quickly. The thief is known and the main issue is finding and getting access to his lair. To do that, much of the story has Thibault attending events with Osten (and subsequently expanding his horizons) and dealing with the butterflies his crush gives him, as well as the guilt and discomfort hiding his quest and dishonesty brings. My disconnect from Stolen Token is that for me, the characters could do with a bit more fleshing out. There are quite a few named characters who all seem to serve as agents of plot point progression and quest checkpoints. As the writing style is spare, reminiscent of a fable/allegory, it makes sense that characters are mainly there to tell the tale and convey a message; I just personally could have engaged more with the story if most of the characters and their actions didn’t feel like NPC side quests and encounters added to flavor the journey.
Thibault’s character does fare better, though as he’s very considerate, giving, and extremely honest. The reader is told he’s a bit bored of himself, not a free thinker, and doesn’t see himself as the type to break the mold or forge his own path. Until the quest, he’s had few opportunities to show the more caring, brave, and slightly cheeky parts of himself. As he stumbles about trying to complete his mission with little guidance, there are glimpses of his character development…until his inevitable crisis comes; when he arrives out the other side, the extent of his character progression feels sudden and a little unearned.
Osten remains a mystery for much of the story. In the beginning, they seem to knowingly use their charm and charisma to ensure Thibault’s help, but soften as they grow fond of him. Although their divine aspect is a giant peacock (and their chosen form is a humanoid amalgamation), they’re not arrogant and aren’t overwhelmingly entitled, but the few character beats that convey emotion are usually connected to explanations, making Osten feel like an expository vehicle at times. The story is told in third-person limited from Thibault’s POV, except for one chapter towards the end, which feels like it’s there to give the sudden depth of Osten’s feelings for Thibault more weight as the shift from quiet indicators of Osten’s genuine interest in Thibault and growing affection to intense desire and romantic partnership is abrupt as well.
However, Stolen Token is a solid debut that incorporates its theistic elements well and tells its straightforward story efficiently. The pieces the reader gets to see of this world’s pantheon and how people incorporate their gods into their lives is enjoyable. The concepts of influence and its corruptive power are well done, and though some of the more dramatic elements and last quarter of the story feel a little ungainly and hurried, the resolution of the quest is hopeful and sweet. Plus, you can almost never go wrong with a baby dragon; Thibault’s interactions with her are the highlight of the story for me—not for cute dragon hoarding antics, but those scenes are the ones in which Thibault feels more alive. I think those looking for a short, contemporary novel with nice fantastical elements and a young adult on the cusp of growth and self-discovery may enjoy this.