The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
“I can steal anything.” With that boast, Gen sets into action a course of events that could affect kingdoms. When he boasts that he can steal the King’s Seal, and then delivers on his promise, he is arrested and thrown into prison, where he languishes until the King’s Magus approaches him with an offer: freedom if he can steal Hamiathes’s Gift, a legendary stone that carries with it the right to rule the kingdom of Eddis.
Megan Whalen Turner writes a delightful mythic fantasy that takes the reader on a secret journey through a country whose culture and religion are loosely based on Ancient Greece. Turner’s land appeals to all the senses; The stench of the prisons, the heat of the sun, and the splendid views of ancient olive tree fields come off the page and play like a movie in the reader’s mind. The landscape, both physically and spiritually, is a vibrant part of the story.
The characters are very well done, from Gen (the whining gutter rat), to the Magus (the determined scholar), to Useless the Elder and Younger (Gen’s nicknames for the Magus’s two apprentices). The evolution of each character, and of the relationships between all the main characters, unfolds naturally and with believable adjustments to the trials they face.
The Thiefstarts a little slowly, but turns into a masterfully told tale of intrigue and adventure. In fact, I may have been late coming back from lunch the day I finished it because I was so sucked into the tale that I lost track of time. There are lots of twists and turns to the story. I saw one of them coming, but another took me completely by surprise. In retrospect, it seems completely in keeping with the story, which for me is a sign of good story telling, and not shoehorning in surprises just for the sake of a Big Reveal.
This is YA fiction that would appeal to a nine year old, but does not lose its appeal for adult readers as well. It is the first book in a trilogy, and I already have the second book on hold at the library so I can continue to follow the adventures of Gen.
Megan Whalen Turner’s award-winning 1996 YA fantasy The Thief, set in a fantasy world that has very strong echoes of ancient Greece, follows the adventures of Gen, the eponymous thief, as he is yanked from a filthy prison cell to go on a journey with a group of four men who hope to steal an unnamed object. The magus, who is leading the group, is the only person in the group who knows what they are searching for and where it is hidden.
In honor of the deep importance of mythology and the panoply of Greek-like gods in the tale of The Thief, several Greek gods and goddesses have graciously agreed to make guest appearances in this review, to add their brief thoughts and opinions regarding this book.
ARTEMIS: “Actually, when you think about it, the whole plot of The Thief revolves around a hunt. Okay, it’s a hunt for a hidden object, not a wild beast, but still. It’s really quite fascinating.”
Gen spends most of the lengthy journey recovering from his months-long stay in prison, whining about their current conditions and the limited food, and sassing the magus and other members of the group. Although the journey is a rocky one, in more ways that just one, gradually Gen begins to gain the respect of most of the group, and they for him.
POSEIDON: “The role of the river Aracthus in protecting the treasure was a high point. But the story needed more bodies of water and less wasteland. Sea of Olives, pfft. Poor excuse for the real thing.”
The characters are well-drawn and believable, with intriguing layers.
…Ambiades was not going to move a step at the request of a worthless and insolent petty criminal. Ambiades, I realized, was the kind of person who liked to put people in a hierarchy, and he wanted me to understand that I was at the bottom of his. He was supposed to treat me politely in spite of my subservient position, and I was supposed to be grateful. For my part, I wanted Ambiades to understand that I considered myself a hierarchy of one.
The tale of their journey is also interspersed with mythological tales of their world, such as the creation of the earth and birth of the gods, which give additional depth to the overall story.
ARES: “I liked the sword fighting and the importance of the art of war in the plot of this story. Recognize! Too bad most of the fighting scenes were so short. But the conflicts between the countries of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia! Yeah, that has potential.”
The first half of this book is somewhat slow-paced, as the group journeys to their destination, but once they arrive the pace quickens and the plot takes some unexpected and fascinating turns. The Thief has joined the list of my favorite YA fantasy novels.
APHRODITE: “Why does the most beautiful woman in the book only make a brief appearance? Where is the love?” *pouts*
The Thief is the first book in a series of four books, with possibly more books to come, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. By the end of the book, I was a huge fan of the characters and of Megan Whalen Turner. I’ve bought all four books in this series and will probably automatically buy anything else she writes. THE QUEEN’S THIEF series should not be missed by anyone who enjoys YA fantasy.
HERMES: “I love how Eugenides, the god of thieves, is worshipped and honored by the main character. And did you notice how Eugenides doesn’t have to do any of the messengering crap? How about that, there, Zeus? Best book ever!”
The Thief is an enjoyable YA quest fantasy, set apart from the crowd by its refreshing setting (owing more to ancient Greece than to medieval England) and by a narrator with some tricks up his sleeve. I’ve heard the later books are even better, and I’ll definitely be adding them to my TBR pile.
Sounds like something I’d like. Nice review.
My YA son enjoyed this series (though he didn’t want to admit it because I chose it for him).
LOL I know what you mean. I have shelves full of terrific books from different genres and my teenagers won’t read them because dad likes them. The more I read the fewer options they have :)
King of Attolia is one of m favorite love stories. I reread it often. Thanks for bringing more attention to this excellent author (who writes too slowly for my tastes, but obviously she’s more concerned with writing a good story than with my reading schedule).
Ok, I read this awhile back and I have some two cents to share. :) I enjoyed the story but absolutely hated the thief himself whatever his name was, until the end when I read the twist. Then I liked the book much better. However, it has never been much motivation to continue the series, although everyone’s praise of the King of Attolia makes me want to try it sometime. Thanks for the review. :)
Yeah, I thought Gen was annoying until I got to the twist as well, and then I went back and read large sections of the book with an entirely new appreciation for what Turner had managed to pull off. The library just called and told me the next book in the series is in, so I’m going to go pick that up this morning. Stay tuned for future reviews!