Maybe November was a bad time to start a book review blog. The Skunk Cat reviewers are deep in NaNoWriMo-land and don't have a lot of free time for reading. To keep things going until December, I'll be posting the occasional review of older books.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is one of the books I'd take with me to a desert island if, you know, I had to go to a desert island but could pick what I wanted to take with me (can I take a boat?). It's also not exactly obscure, since it was a 1997 Newbery honor book.
The thief in the story is Gen, who at the beginning of the book is in prison after he tried (and succeeded! But was caught) to steal the king's seal on a dare. When the king's magus needs a thief to steal a legendary stone, he chooses Gen. Gen is taken from prison and dumped on a horse to travel with the magus, his two apprentices, and a soldier.
It sounds like the opening of a tedious epic fantasy, but the book is set in an alternate universe version of ancient Greece and surrounding areas. Not only that, but Turner's writing is clean and brilliant, particularly her characterizations. Gen is not what he seems. A big part of why I love the book is Turner's ability to reveal new pieces of characterization and plot without making the reader suspect information is being held back. When we reach the bigger reveals, they seem natural rather than contrived. It's also delicious to see how the other characters react to Gen as his past and motivations unfold.
Oh, and this trick is handled in first person point of view. Awesome!
I recommend the book without reservations, myself, but I know at least one person who read it and said it dragged in the middle, when the party is traveling to find the stone. That's only part of the book, though, and the action picks up very quickly once they get where they're going. I do typically skip the recountings of the myths that are sprinkled throughout the book; they're interesting the first time, and important to the plot, but they don't hold my interest the way the actual text does. I skip the myths in Watership Down too, for what it's worth.
There are two sequels to the book: The Queen of Atollia, which I've read and hate with a white-hot passion, and The King of Atollia, which I have not read.