Published by: Greenwillow
Recommended by: Small Review
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The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
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.
1. (+) Gen, the protagonist - By far, the best part of this book for me was Gen, his witty comments, resourcefulness, cleverness, determination, and more, though I'm not keen on revealing much about him so that I don't ruin the story for you. It's no secret that Gen has a lot of secrets. His perspective is not really what you'd associate with "distant" nowadays, but it does feel slightly off, slightly distant, the same sort of trickster and wily humor that you might expect of a thief, and that you see in his interactions with the other characters, embedded into how he describes situations, as if he's laying clues out for you to understand his motives, his personality, his background. And he's one of the most well-drawn, fascinating protagonists in YA literature that I've read.
2. (+) World-building - If you are a world-building person, you will love this novel. There are so many details to appreciate. The details of the land during their journey across Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia. The way the land reflects political leanings. The different accents and specialties of each country. The histories, wars and invasions and diseases alike. The ancient Greek inspired culture, with peplos and related mythology stories, though with some historically inaccurate elements like guns, windows with glass panes, pocket watches, and printed books. The details of the treasure hunt itself and the history behind that particular item and how important it is to a certain culture. The details of Gen's thievery and the King's prison and the magus's duties along with the duties of other soldiers and land owners. The customs for the various religions. etc. etc. In some ways, it seemed like The Thief was set-up for the rest of the series because of the very well established world that would later, I bet, have more political intrigue.
3. (+) Stories within stories - What I really liked was the way Megan Whalen Turner created her own mythology within an ancient Greek mythology/culture based world (plus some other details like guns) and factored that into the story. The synopsis refers to the tales of "old gods and goddesses," and I couldn't help but think a bit of Scheherazade and One Thousand and One Nights as Gen and the magus inform us and the other boys of creation and thievery myths.
4. (+) Characters - Personally, I guessed a majority of the secrets and plot twists, but I don't think that makes the character cast any less worthy of admiration. It's clear that each character's motivations and backgrounds are well-drawn and shown in every action that they take, and the interactions between the guys are complex things in themselves. You're with the guys for a majority of the novel, but even the other characters who get very little time in comparison have ulterior motives and personalities that will certainly intrigue as they did to me.
5. (--) The Beginning - The beginning pages are reminiscent of some other books that I've read lately that also haven't eased me into the fantasy world as well as I'd have liked. Just last week, I'd given up on a book for the same reason, but where this book succeeded was in the writing style, which I'll get to later. Still, even with the engaging writing, the info-dumps nearly turned me away.
6. (+/-) Plot - Because I was bored for some parts of the novel. Because the plot was clearly fashioned with the series in mind. For about half the novel, the characters are traveling, the details of the countryside astounding but not hiding the fact that there was very little actually going on, no matter the twists that you uncover later. The devil is certainly in the details in this book, and while I loved that and that the book was showing me that I needed to pay close attention, I still wanted a bit more *excitement.*
7. (+/-) That Special Spark - So, that's a really general topic, but for me, this book lacked that special spark that makes me want to return to it days later, that makes me continue to think of the book hours after I finish it. Why? Well, although the characters were well-rounded, the only one who I felt at all connected to was Gen, and that happened a lot later, when he really started to pull the guns out, so to speak. And as for the world? Well, it's certainly fascinating and well-drawn, but I probably missed a good deal of it with the beginning info-dumps and unless I actually *care* about the characters a lot, then I'll probably not feel too invested in the world either. So that's all to say, while I sense a great deal of potential in Megan Whalen Turner and the world and characters she's drawn, this book hasn't quite *sold* me on the series yet. I plan on continuing, yes, but it's not a need-it-now kind of priority (though I have been warned that this book is not the best of the series).
8. (+) Writing - This prose is simplistic but not sparse. It's beautiful, textured, and evocative with all the details that Ms. Turner adds in to make the setting come alive and to add complexity to Gen's narrative and the mythology that she incorporates into the plot and world.
9. (+/-) Pacing - I mentioned that the beginning had a lot of info-dumps and that they're traveling for a good deal of the time. The book doesn't really pick up until about 6/10ths of the way through, and even then, there are a few lulling moments. Still, I can't completely fault the pacing because I honestly don't know what else could have been done, besides maybe adding more plot to this book and cutting back in that first half.
10. (+) The Cover - Yes for the treasure. Yes for Gen's dirty hands. Yes for the symmetry and elaborate design. (Though I do wish they'd done something to evoke the ancient Greek culture feel.)
This book was recommended to me because I like Shadow and Bone, Graceling, and Grave Mercy. I agree with these comparisons: it's clear that the political machinations of each are echoed in this story, the mention of gods and religion somewhat reminiscent of that in GM, and the simplistic but textured and detailed writing style very similar to Kristin Cashore's style. I would also recommend this book to those who were fans of Throne of Glass but who also wanted that story's focus to be less oriented on the ball/fairy-tale/romantic aspect. The Thief is a promising start to a series full of political intrigue and complex characters that I will be following into the sequel.
Up Next: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, since I actually own a copy (and am lazy).