The Thief: a review

by Megan Whalen Turner

Those of you who have read this blog for any length of time should recognize this title. I only read it an average of once every two months. But I have never actually reviewed it. I thought this should change since me going, “Read it! Read it!” is not a basis for you actually reading it, except to make me be quiet and go away. It’s one of my minor quests in life to make everyone I know read this series, hence the review. However, it is very difficult for me to talk coherently about this book and I’m working with the additional problem of huge, massive spoilers which it would be very easy to give away. I will try to both talk coherently and avoid ruining the surprise.

The Thief begins thus:

I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before. Every morning the light in the cell changed from the wavering orange of the lamp in the sconce outside my door to the dim but even glow of the sun falling into the prison’s central courtyard. In the evening, as the sunlight faded, I reassured myself that I was one day closer to getting out. To pass time, I concentrated on pleasant memories, laying them out in order and examining them carefully. I reviewed over and over the plans that had seemed so straightforward before I arrived in jail, and I swore to myself and every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks that were so abysmally stupid again.

I had to stop there because if I didn’t I would just type up the whole book and then I would be breaking copyright law and probably get sent to jail.

So the I in that passage is Gen, a thief who stole the king of Sounis’s seal ring…and then boasted about it and got arrested. He’s been languishing in the king’s prison ever since. But things are about to change. The magus, the king’s most powerful adviser, offers Gen a chance at temporary freedom if he will steal something for him (the magus, that is). This is exactly what Gen’s been waiting for. And with that the story begins.

Gen is one of those characters that just leaps off the page. He’s a little bit like Howl, a little bit like Peter Wimsey, but in the end he’s no one but himself. The story moves between the countries of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia which make up that region of Gen’s world. As Turner explains, “I knew that I wanted to write a story and that I wanted the Greek landscape to be the inspiration for it….The setting for the story was inspired by Greece, but it isn’t Greece and this isn’t a Bronze Age culture that Gen lives in…There’s no specific date in our world that correlates to development of Gen’s world, but it is certainly more like the Byzantine period than classical Greece.” (Extras, p. 2) She does a fantastic job of building a world and culture that seem familiar but are not overly reliant on real-world facts and dates and that, above all, feel alive and real. The use of stories, especially in this book, really helps that, as well as the wonderful descriptions of the landscape. I noticed these particularly in my latest re-read and was reminded a bit of Rosemary Sutcliff, although it’s an entirely different land they’re describing. In fact, if you’re a Sutcliff fan, you may be amazed to find a description of an object featured in several Sutcliff books making an appearance. There’s also a quote from Howl’s Moving Castle (the book), which is later repeated in The King of Attolia.

Wow, that was all fairly coherent.

A few favorite quotes:
“This was no time to demonstrate unsuspected abilities” p. 40
“I noticed that I had ceased to be ‘Gen’ and had returned to being a kind of unreliable animal, like a cow that’s prone to wandering away.” p. 126

“The magus, in spite of his dogged pursuit of world sovereignty for Sounis, was a reasonably honest man.” p. 179

“The people on the stairs were sucked down in our wake, and by the time we’d left the dark entrance hall and crowded into the doorway of the brightly lit throne room, I felt like the center of a circus on the move. All we needed was dancing bears.” p. 259

Book source: my personal library (I own all three and have pre-ordered the fourth)
Megan Whalen Turner’s Wikipedia page
The series’s Livejournal community

GEN! Gen is awesome! He would be horribly annoying in real life, although less so than Howl, but I still love him! I want to be like Megan Whalen Turner when I grow up!

That was me, letting all my incoherent squees ou



Filed under bookish posts, reviews

12 responses to “The Thief: a review

  1. Gen is high on my list of favorite fictional characters – but like a lot of them (Lord Peter comes to mind) I’d probably just feel stupid if I really knew him. Have you read any of Elizabeth Wein’s books? They make me feel much the same way as Turner’s books.

    • Maureen E

      Have you read any of Elizabeth Wein’s books?

      I haven’t, but I believe they may be on my (massively long) TBR list. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

      I think I would feel more annoyed than stupid, but who knows?

  2. This sounds highly entertaining, and my recognition of that desperate sense of “EVERYONE MUST READ THIS BOOK NOW” makes me want to read it by default. You also make me want to re-read Howl’s Moving Castle! It actually didn’t do that much for me the first time I read it (which was unfortunately not as a child), but maybe I’ll like it more in re-read,

    • Maureen E

      You should, you really should! Granted I tell everyone that, but our reading tastes seem very similar and I think you’d enjoy it.

      I love Howl personally, but mostly for Sophie (okay, I do have a bit of a literary crush on Howl, but…we’ll ignore that). I’m an oldest child and I’m always happy when people make them the heroes/heroines (DWJ is another oldest child).

      • I’ve put it on my to-read list for sure. 🙂

        Yes, I really liked both Howl and Sophie as characters (mmmm Howl… soooo crushable, yet so reprehensible), but for some reason the plotting/narration just didn’t read that well to me. I wish I had read it when I was younger!

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  5. RosaleeLuAnn

    You want to be like Megan Whalen Turner when you grow up?

    Well, I want to be Eddis when I grow up.

    Seconding the rec for Elizabeth Wein’s books.

    • Maureen E

      I wouldn’t say no to Eddis either, because she is six kinds of awesome.

      Elizabeth Wein is now highlighted and starred on my (massively long) TBR list. Several people have mentioned her to me, so it sounds like I should definitely give her a try.

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