Monday, July 29, 2013

Christina Read: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Release Date: December 27, 2005
Published by: Greenwillow
Recommended by: Small Review

Christina Reads Your Recommendations is a regular Monday feature here (inspired by A Reader of Fictions' Sadie Hawkins Sunday) in which you, my readers, get to choose what book I will read and review next. Got a book that you love and want everyone to read and review? That you're not sure what to think of and want a second opinion on? That you think I'll love or that I should have already read? Send in your recommendations via this form!

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.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

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).


  1. Oooh interesting. I feel I often have trouble with books not really captivating me until the last quarter, so sorry to see that that sort of happened here. I know I've had this book recommended to me before, but have never seriously considered picking it up. Even though there are slight issues here, it does sound interesting. I also like that you included why this book was recommended to you. I loved Shadow and Bone, as you know, and actually own Grave Mercy... it's just unread on my TBR shelf. If I get through that series and decide I need another book to accompany the two, I may have to check this one out!

  2. YEAH, Girl of fire and thorn next! My recommendation. Can't wait to see what you think.

    This book has a lot of points I look for. A good MC (which is a male :D) and great world-building.I will keep in mind that the beginning might a bit tough.

  3. Sarah Rees Brennan told me to read this one! It sounds pretty good, I'm hoping my local library will have it

    Cait x

  4. I'm picking up this book next. I really look forward to it. And reading from a thief's perspective? That sounds awesome!

  5. I'm definitely intrigued after reading your review. The fact that Gen is such a well-written character and the detailed world-building, along with the comparisons to Grave Mercy and Throne of Glass, make me want to read the book. Is there any romance? I like at least a little! :) ~Pam

  6. This series is so popular and it's the first time I've read a review of the first book in the series, it sounds like positives made it easier to overlook the negatives. I will definitely keep in mind what you said about the beginning and power through it, I have a tendency to give up on books too easily now if they have a beginning that doesn't hook me.

    Alise @ Readers in Wonderland

  7. Me too--and usually I'm tempted to DNF for that reason. I was enchanted with the writing and the droll humor and the interactions between the characters, but it wasn't till a bit later that I was more invested in the actual story. If you end liking Grave Mercy and are looking for some more political intrigue, you might try this one :). There are a lot of people who love MWT, and I personally feel like I've heard her name almost as often as Melina Marchetta. If nothing else, an excerpt online could help too.

  8. Yesss, so looking forward to it. I actually own the sequel too o.O.

    Mel, I actually think that you'd really like this book. I could see it being a 3.5 or more flower rating for you because of Gen and the droll humor and the extensive, fascinating world, and especially since you recc'd GoFaT to me because of the unusual MC and the writing style. :)

    welcome back from Italy!

  9. Wowza! You got spoilers and book recs from SRB? Go, Cait!! If you find it at your local library, let me know and we can have a discussion!

  10. Gen's perspective is, quite honestly, one of the best that I've ever read. He's very entertaining and complex, and I can't wait for more from him. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on this one too, since besides Finnikin, it seems like you've been having a hard with high fantasy. I hope it won't let you down!

  11. Hey, Pam! Sadly no romance, which is why I related to ToG minus the fairy tale/romance aspects of it. The majority of the traveling Gen does is with four other men/boys. There aren't actually a whole lot of female characters, which is sad, but Gen's perspective, along with the world-building, is truly fantastic.

  12. Truly, even though it seems like this is a somewhat negative review, you can sense the *potential* in the book, and the positives - Gen's perspective and the world-building - make you want to continue despite the info-dump beginning and slow start.

  13. Okay, this post startled me a little at first because it looked so much like my reading notebook. As I read, I make notes, and if I like something I put a (+) beside it and yeah, if I don't love it so much, a (-).
    That said, I have never read this series, but I am trying to read more fantasy so maybe I'll give it a try.

  14. The MC sounds awesome! I'm glad that you hit a jackpot with the worldbuilding in this one. It sounds detailed and unique:) You mentioned that the author took myths anw whatnot and made them into original stories of her own and I think it's exactly what Brodi Ashton did with her Everneath series. Everbound was amazeballs and the myths she used were awesome! I admire an author if she can take something and make it unique-sounding and add other twists and turns to the original ones. Also, beautiful writing reminds me of Maggie Stiefvater who always blows me away with her gorgeous, gorgeous writing skills. The cover itself wouldn't allure me to read the story, if I'm honest, but I'm glad that you find it connected to the story and it suits well with the book. Yay that this was a success to you :)

  15. Hmmm, this one's in my list as well, so I'm glad to see it's largely positive for you. I like your category That Special Spark, because that's totally what earns a book my highest ratings. The spark! :)

  16. Christina, I think you will really like this one actually. Like it more than I did. I know from your Dune review that you're not a huge huge world-building person, but her writing is very similar to Cashore's, and you love her work, and I can see Gen making up for the info-dump problem. Perhaps this book will have that special spark for you :).

  17. It's a huge series in the book world! Megan Whalen Turner seems to be on the lines of Kristin Cashore, Melina Marchetta, Robin McKinley. Mentioned a lot. So I hope you enjoy it if you do give it a shot :).

  18. Gen is amazeballs, to use your words, and authors making their own mythology never fails to astonish me. I don't quite think that this one would be up your alley, though, with less romance and the beginning being hard to get through. Yay for Everbound!! I remember you were reading that - can't wait to read your review for it :). And Maggie Stiefvater - I will buy almost anything she writes because of her gorgeous writing.

  19. I have a friend who's a huge Megan Whalen Turner fan, but I've never actually read any of her books. Which is actually kind of weird considering how much I love fantasy. I like that you still seem to have enjoyed the novel, even though it was missing the spark. Graceling and Fire were like that for me...I really enjoyed the books as I was reading/listening to them, but they weren't the type that kept me thinking about them days later. The Girl of Fire and Thorns series, though...those books kept me enthralled. I can't even begin to tell you how much I love Elisa as the MC. Glad to see you're about to start that series!

  20. Woot, woot! You're getting me even more excited for Girl of Fire & Thorns :). Awww, I love Kristin Cashore's work--sorry that it lacked that special spark for you. I have a feeling you might think the same of The Thief by MWT (they have the same feel of Cashore books), though I have heard that her later books get better.

  21. uugugah I've been meaning to comment on this post for SO long! Sorry!!

    First off, YAY for reading my pick!! Thank you!

    I'm so glad you liked Gen! His layers unfold even more in the other books. I miss his voice (he doesn't narrate the other books), but I love seeing the different perspectives of him (from the third person narrative in the next book, to seeing him through the eyes of two other characters in the latter two books). It really fleshes out his character and the more I know him the more I love him.

    The world building is phenomenal! You are exactly right in that the political intrigue and depth of the world are developed even more as the story continues in books 2-4. The Thief is very much a set up for the rest of the series. There are also lots of little things in The Thief that come full circle and take on a whole new meaning later on in the series. So if you do intend to read the rest, try to do it sooner than later if you can otherwise you may miss out on lots of the little details (and those details really make the series, I think).

    I hear you on the pacing and spark. I wasn't *totally* hooked with the first book. I loved it because I loved Gen, but everything else was lacking a little something for me and I'm not sure I can even explain what it was (though your complaints capture a lot of that special something I also found lacking). It wasn't until the next book that I really fell hard for more than just Gen. Where the story came into its own and where I loved the STORY and side characters as much as I was charmed by Gen.

    I hope you do continue with the series and I'm super super curious to see what you think of the second book. :)

  22. The romance shows up in book two, and oh gosh, I LOVE it. It's like a lake with deceptively still waters but the depths plunge so deep the water turns icy cold and everything is dark. I know that's a weird description for a romance, but this is a very unique romance. Then in book three you really get to see how tender and encompassing it is.

    And as for female characters, you have yet to really meet the two dueling queens who are absolutely fantastic! I could gush for hours.

  23. I'm guessing it's between Gen and the Queen, from the title. And the cold waters stems from the revenge aspect?

    Yay!!! I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about the characters and romance and starting in on the sequel!

  24. No not a problem! And thank YOU for recommending. I'll be reading the sequel sometime in January, I think.

    I imagine I'd have the same reaction as you -- I really loved his voice, but getting to see how other people perceive him without Gen's filter will, I imagine, add even more depth to his character.

    Ooh no, I was planning on reading later. Maybe I'll skim again for those details so that the world-building in the sequel isn't lost on me... I love it when a series can reconnect back to itself. That was part of the awesomeness that is Harry Potter.

    I've heard that the second book is where everything starts to come together and I'm looking forward to seeing just that. Even without the special spark, I sensed a lot of potential and I am super curious to read the second book too :). Thanks for the recs!!

  25. The Messenger by Markus Zusak I don't know if you have already read it, but I think that if you haven't you definitely should. And I would like to hear your opinion on it


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