Book: “The Thief” by Megan Whalen Turner
Publishing Info: Greenwillow Book, October 1996
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: 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.
Review: As you can see in the publishing information section, this is a book that’s been around in the young adult fantasy lexicon for quite a while. It routinely comes up in lists of fan favorites and has the bonafides to back it up being listed as a Newbery Honor Book. It is also a long running series, not necessarily in total number of books, but in their slow, steady release. After a long break after this, the first, Turner has released a new novel in the series every 4-5 years it seems, and the next is scheduled to be published next spring. So, with this in mind, I decided that now was a good time to dive into this series!
At first I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this story. Told from the perspective of Gen, a common thief who is rotting in prison until he is enlisted to aid in a royal treasure hunt, the story seemed like a fairly straight forward adventure. The story telling came across rather stilted at first, with Gen often coming across as a lazy, unlikable protagonist. The writing and plot also seemed a bit too simplified for my expectations for a Newbery book. And yet…
Turner masterfully handles her protagonist. As I’ve said before, it’s a challenging task to write an unreliable narrator, even more so in these circumstances as the narrator is unreliable for reasons that might make him even harder to write than normal. I know that wasn’t a very helpful sentence, but I don’t want to give away things.
Further, the slow build in plot development also had huge pay offs in the end. The story itself is very short, so that may have been part of my initial skepticism with its slow burn approach to plot. But, ultimately, the adventure, fantasy, and world building were ultimately fleshed out in truly great ways. There were a lot of twists and turns throughout the story that I didn’t expect, including a dive into the mystical that came a bit out of left field for me.
While this story only briefly touches on the politics and relationships found between the countries in this fantasy world, I can see the groundwork that is being lain here. The story itself, however, does read as a stand-alone, so it’s a curious place to be, knowing there are several novels to follow.
But, as I mentioned, I feel that this book garnered its award purely on the strength of Gen as a narrator. His voice is unique (so unique that I wasn’t quite sure what I was dealing with initially and was prone to disliking him, as I mentioned), but, depending on how the next few books go, I think he has the potential to be one of my favorite leading characters.
This is a short, quick read that is well worth its time! Make sure to give it the chance it deserves if you find yourself, like me, struggling with the beginning. The payoff is well worth it! Now, we’ll see how successful I am at spacing out the rest of the books before next spring’s new release. Or…I’ll just read them all right away and waste away in anticipation like the rest of the poor fanbase who have been waiting so much longer than I will have!
Rating 8: A truly unique narrator who is worth the effort it takes to understand him!
“The Thief” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Thief Books” (it’s first on this list, which says something, I think!) and “Genius Protagonist.”
Find “Dreamer’s Pool” at your library using WorldCat.
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