I’ve been hearing about Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief for a while now, and a few months ago, a friend gave me a copy of The Queen of Attolia (the sequel), so I finally read it this November. It was fantastic and I can’t wait to talk all about it!
about the book
TITLE: The Thief
AUTHOR: Megan Whalen Turner
PUBLISHED IN: 1996
AUDIENCE: YA? (more on this later)
SUMMARY: 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.
my review + thoughts
The Thief is technically fantasy, but I wasn’t sure about the genre when I started it, and I didn’t realize it was fantasy until a few chapters in. It’s set in a fictional world that feels vaguely like ancient Greek mythology, but there are watches and guns. There’s no magic (as far as I can tell — I’ve only read two of the books in the series so far) except that some characters pray to gods and goddesses.
It seems to be aimed at YA readers, but it isn’t a typical YA novel; the writing is detailed and the plot slow (it reminds me of works by Robin McKinley and Nancy Bond).
Before I read the book, I knew that H.S.J. Williams, one of my recent favorite fantasy authors, really liked the series, and my friend Lydia (who gave me book 2) said she enjoyed them too. I had a vague picture of some sort of Detectives in Togas-like atmosphere (which was completely wrong), and that’s all.
So. Without spoiling the plot (which is hard with this particular book), here’s what I thought.
what I liked
THE PLOT. A lot of people are bothered by the slow pacing, but I really wasn’t! I completely loved the ambling, storytelling nature of the first half of the book, and was totally blindsided by a fast-paced, creepy bit in the middle (seriously. I was scared.). After that the action picked up, and I still loved it, but personally I found the slower pace to be more engaging because I got to meet each character and learn about them as they traveled.
THE POV. Even though the book is in first person POV, Gen manages to keep secrets from the reader (I might call it “limited first person”). It’s a similar technique to what Jennifer Nielsen does in The False Prince (by the way, if you like that book, this one’s perfect for you). It was definitely infuriating at times, but the payoff was rewarding and Gen’s personality is the BEST. Which leads me to…
GEN. Gen, the thief, is the main character and the point of view for the entire story. He’s hilarious and that’s pretty much all I can say because I really don’t want to spoil the book for you!
A successful thief doesn’t depend on things being unlikely to happen.
(Ahh, all the aesthetics for him have spoilers! Also, as I’m looking at aesthetics, I’m getting really happy because I still have four more books in the series. New series that are this good and enjoyable are a rare discovery for me.)
THE OTHER CHARACTERS. There’s the Magus, who’s irritable and knowledgeable; Pol, whose purpose is a bit uncertain; and two useless apprentices (including one who’s absolutely adorable).
All five main characters are distinct and memorable — which is no small feat considering that they are all male and three of them are around the same age.
I also really like some other characters who aren’t in this book much but are more important in the sequels.
I didn’t really care much about anything, so I guess I felt fine.
THE WORLD + HISTORY + GODS. It’s loosely based on Greece — I love ancient Greek history and myth, so I loved that. However, the gods are completely original, so though you might notice some parallels to the Greek/Roman gods, there are surprises everywhere. I especially loved how there is a thief god (similar to Mercury? at least that’s how I thought of him?).
THE ENDING. I can’t say anything, obviously, but I did not expect the ending at all! I should have known, but I just stared at the page, half overjoyed, half angry, completely confused. After re-skimming it (and reading the second book), I’ve decided I like it.
“Oh,” she said in irritation and perfect understanding. “It’s you.”
- Gen and the Magus’ interactions.
- The moments when I was internally screaming, Finally! I knew you could do that!
- The writing style.
- The way the myths were woven into the narrative.
what I didn’t like
THE POV. I know I said above that I liked it, but… the second book switched to third person. While I enjoyed both, I wish the author would’ve been consistent.
THE SCENE AT THE TEMPLE. (Personal preference.) I was completely freaked out.
THE LACK OF CLARITY. Things I would like to know:
- How old is Gen? (Apparently no one online knows this either, with guesses ranging from 14 to late teens. The second book just manages to confuse everyone further. Is he 16? 24? Who knows?!)
- What does everyone look like? (Fanart helps, but the author doesn’t describe anyone’s hair/skin/eye color except a few minor characters.)
- Exactly how far apart are the different kingdoms? (They seem very small. Either that or the characters can walk very fast, which I doubt.) (Actually, it’s probably just because I can’t imagine distances in my head.)
I recommend this book! Highly! If you enjoy The False Prince, Robin McKinley, Greek myth, historical fiction, trickster narrators, snarky exchanges, fantasy, adorable characters, or all (or none) of the above, you’ll probably like this book.
Content warnings: Occasional swearing (“hells” and “gods damn”). Occasional physical violence (not intense in this book; much more so in the sequel). A character is said to have fallen off a roof and died (in the past).
Series: Some people say you can read the books in any order. I DISAGREE. If you don’t start with The Thief, its entire plot will be spoiled for you by the later books.
I have also read The Queen of Attolia and am planning to read the whole series (The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves, The Return of the Thief). I think I’ll do a review of them one I finish them all.
Before you read: Do NOT read any reviews! Don’t look up art or collages! Don’t try to figure out anything about the series! I’m serious! The first book has a major twist that EVERY OTHER BOOK spoils (thus why you need to read it first) and most everybody online who’s reviewed it or made fanart… spoils it. Also, another plot point in the second book is pretty much everywhere online too. So. Read the books, THEN look at the fanart. 🙂
Until next time, stay sane!
Maya [ the stories are true ]