Book Review: “The Thief” by Megan Whalen Turner

Blurb & Info

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.

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: October 31, 1996

Series: The Queen’s Thief #1

Pages: 280

Content Warnings: violence

Review

The general consensus of positive reviews for this book is that The Thief is pretty decent, but the later books in the series are much, much better. I haven’t read The Queen of Attolia (the second book in the series) yet, so I can’t attest to that, but I can say that I was extremely underwhelmed by The Thief. It felt like the actual story was playing second fiddle to setting the stage for later books and doing a lot of world-building.

However, I read The Thief in a single sitting when I should have been writing an essay, so it’s not like I can say I didn’t enjoy it. I did! (I think there’s real potential for a discussion post about how the standards of YA fantasy have changed since the late 1990s, and perhaps — because I’m used to more recent YA fantasy — that colored my reading of The Thief). I’d say that you need to adjust your expectations for this book in order to enjoy it. The Thief does not stand on its own, and my opinion is that you need to know that before starting the series, or else risk serious disappointment.

The setting is definitely a fantasy world, but it feels very Mediterranean-coded, which is something I haven’t seen much of in other fantasy books. Characters are mentioned as wearing peplos (a type of garment worn in real-world Ancient Greece), eating olives, and the king lives in a megaron (an Ancient Greek royal structure) rather than a castle. Some of the gods from Greek polytheism are mentioned by name, but that religion hasn’t been copy/pasted into this work of fiction — Turner put her own twist on things and delivers a new (but still nostalgic-feeling) mythology.

The other elephant in the room that all of the reviews mention is that the pacing in this book is pretty wonky. There is an adventure happening, but it takes a while for Gen and his traveling party to reach it. Some reviewers complain that nothing happens in this section, which isn’t entirely true. The magus, the guard, and the magus’ two apprentices bicker with Gen, tell stories, and encounter small obstacles, all of which serve to build interpersonal tension and establish character development and world-building. Stuff is going on below the surface, but it’s happening slowly and quietly — if you’re looking for action, you’re going to have to wait until the second half of the book to get it (which, thankfully, is not a terribly long span of pages, since The Thief is less than 300 pages overall).

The characters were very good, since the first half of the book is devoted to developing them. There is no romantic subplot. I liked Gen; I liked how he complained and needed to recover from being imprisoned, and how he was snarky and rude and felt so believable. The Thief, overall, wasn’t the most impressive book in the world for me, but I want to go on another adventure with its protagonist, so I’ll be picking up The Queen of Attolia when I’m next in the mood to read about a thief who can steal anything.

⭐⭐⭐ out of 5 stars

3 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Thief” by Megan Whalen Turner

Add yours

    1. That would be a very good discussion topic since there’s a definite shift in YA fantasy from, I guess, pre-Twilight to when Twilight and Hunger Games took off and the focus went to creating franchises to now.

      Btw, adding the Thief to my TBR. It does sound interesting to me.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: