Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

I actually read this for the first time as a child back when it was still a standalone and I remember my edition had a really cheesy, cartoonish cover. THE THIEF is a book that won't appeal to everyone, and even as a child, I had difficulty getting into it. For one thing, it's one of those fantasy novels that revolves around journeys, which I know isn't everyone's cup of tea. For another, it's very slow-paced and mostly character-driven. Towards the end, there's a series of rapid twists, but I think if you aren't into the characters or the world-building, it just isn't going to appeal, and that's fine. Not everybody loves everything.

THE THIEF is set in a pseudo-Ancient Grecian world, where three kingdoms-- Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia-- are constantly at odds, their ways changed and evolved over time following the influence of invaders. Attolia and Sounis are enemies, with Eddis to keep the peace and maintain trade, but of course, that doesn't always work.

Of course, Gen, our hero, doesn't know all that much about politics ostensibly, since he's a lowly thief currently biding his time in prison. He stole the king's seal and bragged about it in a bar, which resulted in his getting arrested and chained to his bed, denied even the creature comforts of exercise in the sun. When he's brought out for release by the king's magus, he's understandably suspicious: they want him for something and it isn't for cake decorating in celebration of his own release party. No, he's the "greatest" thief in the kingdom and they want him to steal something BIG.

Reading this as an adult, I was struck by the maturity of this work. I'd often see it at Scholastic book fairs (remember those?) and I read it in grade school, I think. When I rate children's books and young adult low, I often get comments from people saying things like, "It's a kids' book, what did you expect?" which I think is a bit cheap, really, because it underestimates how clever kids are, and how layered a good YA or MG book should be. Children don't want to feel talked down to, and a really good book for preteens and teens should be as faceted as a diamond, because you want them to come back to it again and again and find new things every time they read it. Those are the books that become timeless.

With THE THIEF, I picked up on a lot of clever banter and references that escaped me as a kid. As a kid, I found Gen's sarcasm to the "adults" very funny and daring (even though I think Gen is an older teen/young man, he is a bit childish in a way that children will relate to). As an adult, he was still amusing but also quite exasperating-- but in a way that felt believable to his character. I was more interested in his developing relationships with the other people in his travel party (Ambiades, Sophos, Pol, and the magus), and how complex it became as we learned more about the other characters and their motivations. Turner also created her own mythology for this book, inspired by the Greek mythology, and that was really fun as well, to see how it paralleled the myths I'm familiar with.

While this isn't a book that will appeal to everyone, I think that anyone who enjoys fantasy books where the focus is on the development of the world and the characters, light political intrigue, and journeying will really enjoy this. At times, it almost has LORD OF THE RINGS vibes, and then at others, it feels more like Indiana Jones. This isn't a fast-paced, action-packed story until the end, but I really enjoyed it as a quiet sort of story that you can sink into until it springs on you. I look forward to reading the sequel.

4 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. I really like the Attolia series, esp. Queen of Attolia. It is for a much younger audience than me, but the plot is fascinating, as are the complex character sketches.



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