Book: “Thick as Thieves” by Megan Whalen Turner
Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: Deep within the palace of the Mede emperor, in an alcove off the main room of his master’s apartments,. Kamet minds his master’s business and his own. Carefully keeping the accounts, and his own counsel, Kamet has accumulated a few possessions, a little money stored in the household’s cashbox, and a significant amount of personal power. As a slave, his fate is tied to his master’s. If Nahuseresh’s fortunes improve, so will Kamet’s, and Nahuseresh has been working diligently to promote his fortunes since the debacle in Attolia.
A soldier in the shadows offers escape, but Kamet won’t sacrifice his ambition for a meager and unreliable freedom; not until a whispered warning of poison and murder destroys all of his carefully laid plans. When Kamet flees for his life, he leaves behind everything—his past, his identity, his meticulously crafted defenses—and finds himself woefully unprepared for the journey that lies ahead.
Pursued across rivers, wastelands, salt plains, snowcapped mountains, and storm-tossed seas, Kamet is dead set on regaining control of his future and protecting himself at any cost. Friendships—new and long-forgotten—beckon, lethal enemies circle, secrets accumulate, and the fragile hopes of the little kingdoms of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis hang in the balance.
Review: As I made abundantly clear in my gushing ALA posts, I’ve very much been looking forward to “Thick as Thieves,” the fifth installment in the “Queen’s Thief” series and was beyond thrilled when I got to meet Megan Whalen Turner several times and snag a signed copy of the book. It immediately jumped to the top of my reading list, and I am happy to report that it was worth the wait for its release!
As is now the pattern with these stories, our protagonist has once again changed in this story. This time around we follow Kamet, a slave to the Mede ambassador. We technically met this character several books ago when the Mede ambassador was visiting Attolia and attempting to bully the queen into an alliance. It was quite a lot of fun watching him be sent home in shame, Kamet in tow. Here, we meet up again with Kamet in the years that have followed. From his perspective, while the embarrassment of what happened to his master was unfortunate, Attolia is still a backwaters country with a fool of a king and in all respects he would like to simply wash his hands of his time there. Besides, good things are coming his way. Slave or not, he sees a future of power and influence ahead as the right hand man to the to-be Mede emperor.
These beginning scenes documenting Kamet’s life as a slave serve as an important insight into his head. As a reader, we are trained to look at his situation and pity him. He’s a slave, no amount of power and influence should be worth it. Kamet is both a reliable and unreliable narrator in this way. His perspective is not completely false; he does have power and influence in his position, much more so than other slaves, and, importantly, more so even than other free men. Not only does he choose to remain a slave when he is initially presented with the opportunity to flee, but throughout the story we see that he has become very arrogant from this position. He thinks quite a lot of himself and the role he has played, often looking down on the other slaves as well as entire countries like Attolia.
But on the other hand, Kamet is unreliable. He’s clearly suffering from some version of Stockholm syndrome, more worried about the embarrassment of being seen to have been beaten after an error in judgement than enraged that he was beaten at all. He blames himself for causing the situation that forced his “good” master’s hand.
After he is forced to flee Mede after the death of his master, it was great reading about the slow transition Kamet undergoes. The Attolian guard is a steady, consistent presence of another way to live. He doesn’t speak much at all, and when he does, Kamet must constantly re-evaluate his views of Attolia, the Attolian soldier, and himself.
The story is essentially a travelogue following these two characters’ flight through Mede attempting to gain passage by ship back to Attolia. For a book that has many action sequences (fleeing from slavers, hiding from guards, etc), it also felt like a steady character study of these two characters, but particularly Kamet himself. I’ve always loved Whalen Turner’s ability to make the reader fall in love with each new character she presents. Even more challenging, she often starts with characters we aren’t pre-disposed to love. Kamet is the same; his arrogance and seemingly wilful ignorance can make him frustrating in the beginning. But there’s great chemistry between him and the Attolian and it was a lovely story reading about Kamet essentially rediscovering who he is now that the one thing he has defined himself as, a powerful slave, has been taken away from him.
Other than great characters, we can always expect great twists from this author, and this book is no different. I was actually able to predict a few of the story turns, but there were others that took me completely by surprise. Never fear, Gen does make an appearance towards the end and is just as clever, confusing, and appealing as ever. Throughout the series, the scope of his schemes has had to constantly expand, from tricking a few people in the first book, to maneuvering entire countries and empires in later books. The thrill remains as we watch him triumph, oh so casually, over these other power houses who have all dismissed him as so much foolishness.
Coming as no surprise now, I completely recommend this story. It is fairly necessary to have read the other books in the series before reading this one, I would say. But hey, if you haven’t already, all the more exciting for you since they are all so great!
Rating 10: Worth any wait.
“Thick as Thieves” is a new book and isn’t on m any relevant Goodreads lists (other than ones titled things like “Books that need to come out sooner!!!”), but it should be on “Books with Unreliable Narrators.”
Find “Thick as Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!