Book Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

448873The Thief
(The Queen’s Thief, #1)
by Megan Whalen 
Turner
October 31, 1996
Greenwillow Books
280 pages
Source: Library Loan

Synopsis

The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities.

What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses. (Goodreads Summary.)

Opening Line

I didn’t know how long I had been in the King’s prison.


My Take On It

Ok, a confession. I came REALLY close to not reading this book. Before I started book blogging, I had never even heard of this author or this series. Of course I was also unaware of Kristin Cashore and Melina Marchetta, both of whom have written two of my favorite fantasy series. When I did notice an awful lot of bloggers and readers going on about Megan Whalen Turner (MWT), the main character Gen, and this series, I went ahead and checked The Thief out from my public library (also a good sign because my small town branch library doesn’t carry a lot of YA books, and even fewer fantasy series–an indication that this one was worth spending their money on.)

The Thief is not a thick book, my little copy was only 280 pages (that is NOTHING.) So I set out thinking I’d have it read in no time flat. Well. I think I got about three or four chapters in and found myself struggling to continue. Frankly I was a little bored. So I put it aside thinking I’d come back to it. Six weeks later I returned it to the library unread (I HATE when I do that.) I figured this series just wasn’t for me.

Flash forward a few months and a new blogger friend Lauren tells me how much she is loving this series and how she really thinks I would like it too. So I decided to give it another go. When I decided to co-host the Summer Series Challenge, I knew that MWT’s Queen’s Thief series would be the one I would first tackle.  This time I was ready. I had heard from several readers that yes, the first half of the book is slow, but that the action picks up considerably after that.

GUYS. So very glad that I heeded that advice. Turns out they were right. All of them. It is slow going but it does pick up. And yes, it is exactly the type of book I love. Why? Characters, characters, characters. One in specific: Gen.  From the beginning I was curious about this self-professed thief who has landed himself in jail for not just stealing the King’s seal but being STUPID enough to boast about publicly. But over time this curiosity turned to full scale love and admiration. As anyone who reads this book (and series) will tell you: the characters in these books are not always as they would seem. And nothing could be more true when describing Gen the thief. Told in first person POV (my favorite!), Gen is the absolute epitome of an unreliable narrator, something else I am very fond of in the books I read. And don’t be fooled by his humble beginnings. He might be a sprung jailbird but Gen is also the hero of this book. Albeit a hero that is small in stature, scowls a lot, tells half truths at best, and outright lies at worst, cowers in fear quite a bit, and can’t stand sitting a horse. That last part makes me laugh. I’m not the first reader to pick up on this, but it’s true! How many fantasy’s do you read where the hero dislikes horses? And that really sums up Gen’s character on the whole. He is such an unlikely hero figure at the start of this tale. But as it progresses, Gen’s cleverness and cunning becomes clear. And as I was reading I began to feel pretty confident that Gen that would be getting the last laugh in the end.

But what I found quickly was Gen is not the only character of worth in this book. Most of the book takes place “on the road” as Gen and his traveling party move from one country to another in search of something that the King of Sounis desperately wants to procure.  We meet the leader of the party, the magus, who is the King’s wise scholar and counsel; two of his apprentices, Ambiades and Sophos; and a soldier who is accompanying them, Pol.  You guys, there is not one character among these that isn’t well written. All are complex and multi-layered. And all are surprising in their own ways.

In addition to the traveling party, we get a few glimpses of the three ruling parties, and though they are only touched on briefly, they too make a big impression. I knew that this meeting was really just the tip of the iceberg. As this is only the first book in a planned series of seven, there will undoubtedly be much more to come from these three characters. All I am going to say is that two seem as though they should not be trusted and the other I already like immensely:)

I’m not going to delve very deep into this book’s plot, because as a few of my reader friends told me early on, this book, and series, works best when you drop your speculations and approach it as organically as possible.  What you need to know is that The Thief is a fantasy with a quest storyline, set in land that from the start, reminded me of ancient Greece and Rome. At least as far as the descriptions of the countryside goes. The three kingdoms that are the primary focus, Sounis, Attolia and Eddis, have stretches of shoreline as well as rocky, hilly areas. Citrus and olive groves abound. Even the architecture, in particular the palaces and temples, were very Greco-Roman in description. It felt VERY Mediterranean to me. So when I later discovered that this area of the world was indeed part of what inspired Turner as she was writing this series, I felt vindicated. I took a whole heck of a lot of humanities, art history, western civilization and Latin classes in college. I felt right at home in this setting.

Also reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome? The mythology found in The Thief. Again, I’m pretty up to date on my classical mythology, so I could definitely see correlations between that and the religion and myths that Turner has written into this book. Many of the gods and goddesses share similar names and attributes. Are Turner’s myths and pantheon of gods a perfect match for those found in classical mythology? No. She borrowed bits and pieces but the myths are wholly her own.

Found in The Thief are stories within stories, and I loved this about the book. In particular I loved the origin stories about Eugenides, the thief god, and for whom all thieves are named (including our Gen.) I was reminded very much of the Greek god Hermes, the Roman god Mercury, who was the trickster god, the god of travelers, and patron of thieves. Sounds very much like our boy, Gen, no? 😉

But you know one major difference between Turner’s book and that of ancient Greece and Rome?  You aren’t going to find any women rulers in those two ancient societies. ESPECIALLY ancient Greece. Greece may have been the first to come up with the concept of democracy, but women did not enjoy the same freedoms that Greek and Roman men did. But in Turner’s world, not just one, but two of the three countries focused on, are ruled by powerful (and very different) women. HECK YES, I love this about this series. The Thief may be told in first person, male POV of Gen, but you will never be able to discount the role that women play in this series.  And that, my friends,  just plain ROCKS.

So what are my qualms with The Thief? Well it really IS slow to start, but if you are willing to work through that, the pay off is BIG.

And again, I’m not the first to make mention of this next thing, but I’m going to mention it anyway. This book (and series) would be greatly enhanced if a MAP was included. I love visual aids, don’t you? I cannot say it enough: maps in works of fantasy should be MANDATORY, you guys. Especially books which have characters traveling between countries and foreign lands.

Well guess what my good readers? I went and FOUND a map for you. And I did this at great personal risk, traveling over to one of the series fan sites which is RIFE with spoilers every which way you turn. Seriously, I had to click around with one eye closed so I wouldn’t see something I shouldn’t. Anyway, here you go! A map of Gen’s world for your future reference. YOU’RE WELCOME. 🙂

It’s a fan’s interpretation but I think it’s GRAND. And I give credit where credit is due so thank you, tearoha.livejournal.com. Nice job!

In conclusion, I owe a debt of gratitude to my bloggy friends Lauren, Heidi, Keertana and Amanda, all of whom have encouraged me to pick this book and series back up and give it another shot. THANK YOU for that push. At the time of this review I have already read book # 2 in the series, The Queen of Attolia, and WOW. I now truly see where all the adoration for this series comes from.  I totally, totally get it.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I encourage any readers who have not yet gotten on the Megan Whalen Turner Love Train to stop stalling and climb aboard. And if you are still on the fence but are a fan of fantasy works, especially books like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm or Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles, the Queen’s Thief series should be required reading because BOTH of those ladies love this series. In fact, Marchetta credits The Queen’s Thief series for inspiring her when she was writing The Lumatere Chronicles.

And if you were like me, someone who attempted to read The Thief and put it down thinking it wasn’t for you, do yourself a favor, pick it back up for a second look. What a disservice it would have been  had I not.

Need I even say more? Yes? How’s this: Just. Read. It.  🙂