Friday, March 29, 2013

March Fantasy Month Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

This review is part of my awesome MARCH FANTASY MONTH project with the lovely Lili of Lili's Reflections. Click here to see Lili's review of The Thief, and follow both of us so you don't miss any of the fantasy madness!

Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Rating: Slow beginning, tremendous mythology, and an awesome main character. This novel feels more like set-up for the rest of the series and is a quick read. I'm SO EXCITED to read the second one, though!

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1)

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.

The cover: I ADORE this cover. The symmetrical composition is beautiful, the hand and the stone are amazingly illustrated, and do you see that elaborate gold filigree stuff? And the MARBLE BACKGROUND behind the text? And that icy blue in the stone? Even if I knew nothing about the book, I would pick it up for the cover alone.

The story: I'm going to take inspiration from Lili's latest March Fantasy Month review and easily divide my review into things I liked and things I didn't. Overall, obviously, Megan Whalen Turner is a rock stair, and I'm definitely continuing with the series.

Things I liked:

Gen. What a sassy, sneaky, stubborn little dude. He's actually a lot like Sage from The False Prince, but a little less obnoxious and appears perhaps a shade more cowardly. He's an uneducated thief, imprisoned at the beginning of the novel because of his own foolish boasts. He is, in a word, awesome. Completely awesome. It was a joy to hang out with him and watch him antagonize the other men in his traveling group.

Aladdin and the Cave of Wonders. So the magus (Jafar) employs Gen, a lowly thief (Aladdin) to break into a Cave of Wonders and steal a particular magical artifact. (This is where the similarities end, obviously.) They're accompanied by a soldier, Pol, and the magus' two apprentices, Sophos and Ambiades. I loved the distinct personalities of all five guys, and I loved watching Gen ruthlessly mess with them. He loves mischief, and I love that about him. But by far the best part of The Thief was this mission, which was steeped in grandeur and mythology and a good deal of treason.

Sounis, Eddis, Atollia, and their accompanying mythology. I love Greek mythology. Love it, love it, love it. I memorized my D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths when I was about eleven. These three countries and their gods are clearly inspired by ancient Greek culture. The world-building is truly astounding. I could see these countries, I got a good feel for their languages and customs and histories. This is fantasy world-building at its finest, I feel.

Not everything is as it seems. There are secrets. There are reveals. There are TWISTS and people who thought were just ordinary people are suddenly FULL OF SECRET THINGS and you're like, "The hell? So that's been going on this whole time? WOW." I love surprises like. There weren't so much surprises of plot as surprises of character. You may be able to guess the secrets these characters are keeping, you may not be. But it's pretty freaking fun to see them revealed.

Things I didn't like:

The slow beginning. The first hundred pages or so are literally the guys all traveling, arguing, and tellign stories about the gods. Gen's personality, the interplay of the five men, and the quality of the mythology make it readable, but I was craving some action. I don't mean I need a battle every time pages, but some kind of plot development would have been nice. Things don't get really interesting until they arrive at their destination.

Info dumps. Don't get me wrong-- I loved the mythology, and the best way to get the stories of the gods is to sit around and tell the stories of the gods. But it's somewhat inelegant to just present them there in big blocks, especially when the plot is already moving pretty slowly.

The truncated plot. The book is pretty short, and when I got to the end of it, I realized not very many things happen. It's a great story, but it's not the whole story. The Thief is definitely set up for the rest of the series.

A couple odd narrative techniques. Gen describes almost every step the travelers take, every stream they rest beside, every inn they stop it. It gets a bit tedious. And yet he describes and actual fight scene in nearly the same tone. I was reading quickly (truthfully, I was in public, and distracted  by something very loud) and missed that there was an actual battle going on because the tone and look of the words didn't change. I had to flip back and refocus, because what was happening was actually very interesting. And then there's that strange, jarring moment where you think you're reading about and Ancient Greece-like culture and then they mention guns and watches. Totally threw me, and I have no idea why MWT included that kind of technology in her world.

Ultimately, this book is a win. MWT is clearly a master of the fantasy genre and know exactly how to formulate interesting worlds, characters, mythology, and political dynamics. I can't wait to read the sequel and find out how all these things come together. Most of all, I can't wait to get back to Gen.


  1. Ok this one sounds really really good! I'm adding it to my ever growing TBR pile! Great review!

    1. Yay! Thank you! I always like to hear I've convinced people to give books a shot!

  2. As both a False Prince and Thief fangirl, I must point out that Sage is based off of Gen, not the other way around. Also, I think the truncated plot may have something to do with Thief's classification as an MG book, though I'm not sure. And finally, yes the plot feels sper-slow in places, but wait until you finish the other books. I went back and read the Thief, and those slow parts are overflowing with double meanings and witty asides that I never caught. MWT is very intentional about every word she writes.

    Okay, done fangirling.

    I'm so glad you got around to reading this book, and I loved the review!

    1. I knew that The Thief was published way before The False Prince, but I didn't know Sage was BASED off Gen! That's pretty cool. They could definitely be related.

      I could feel all the double meanings there. MWT does seem VERY intentional with the details and observations she includes, which I LOVED. They were like little Easter Eggs. And seriously, I'm so excited for the sequels.

    2. I don't know how purposefully Ms. Nielsen based Sage off Gen, but she's admitted to being an MWT fan. I went through all the similarities in my own review of TFP.

      Ooh, Gil, when you're done with ALL the sequels, you'll have to check out the MWT fansite I'm a part of. It's so cool. But you can't look until after you're all done, because we're pretty free with the spoilers.

  3. I think that you enjoyed this one more than I did. Like you, I think that the second half of the book was better than the rest and I greatly enjoyed his traveling companions, but I could only dealing with giving it 3 stars. I can't wait for book two, but this wasn't the strongest start to a series, you know?

  4. I just got a copy of this one recently, so I'm thinking I'm going to have to read it and check it out for myself. You know I love a good fantasy. Plus, references to Aladdin and Greek mythology in your review have me all excited!

  5. I'm so excited to start reading this :D. Someone recommended this book to me via a similar feature to what you have - the Viewer's Choice - and I came here as soon as I saw that your Queen of Attolia review would have spoilers. I'm looking forward to the awesome world-building - Aladdin and Greek mythology FTW - though it's a bit disheartening to see most of it comes in info-dumps. Slow beginning aside, I want to meet Gen and experience the plot twists and get to the sequel that I saw you said was better than this book. YAY!! :)


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