Friday, November 6, 2009

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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.

B&N link


lizardek said...

The third one is pretty darn good. I liked all of them though :) Have been trying to hunt down her short story book without much success.

K.C. Shaw said...

The short story book is called Instead of Three Wishes, right? I used to have a copy and it's very good. I have no idea what happened to my copy, but suddenly I want it back. :)

lizardek said...

Yes, that's it. Must find!

K.C. Shaw said...

Good luck. :)

Lertulo said...

I followed your recommendation and picked up this trilogy. I just finished The Thief a day or two ago, and found it enjoyable if brief. At just 200 pages, the author had to keep things moving quickly to get the plot in--which makes for a fun romp.

The character choices were uninspired: a clever but troublemaking thief, a grumpy magus, an intimidating man-at-arms with a tough-love approach, a snobbish prince and his kind but weak counterpart. I think I ran a D&D campaign like that once. On the other hand, Turner does a fine job of turning these cookie-cutter characters into real presences, and after a little while I didn't mind the clichés. The world feels kind of small, but I think that's a result of simple pagecount; the parts that are there have plenty of detail.

I'm reading book two now, and the cover of the book has just become clear. Interesting...

Lertulo said...

Well, just finished the second book, and I can't say I found it unappealing; I'm curious about the source of your white-hot hatred for the thing.