Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1996)

Gen, a master thief, has been thrown in prison in Sounis after stealing the king's ring and bragging about it in a wineshop. He receives a reprieve from incarceration, however, when the king's magus enlists his help in stealing a prized artifact known as Hamiathes's Gift. Accompanying Gen and the magus on their journey to the deadly temple which protects this mysterious stone are  the magus's apprentices, Sophos and Armiades, and Pol, whose job it is to look after Sophos. Though the five men get along well enough and sometimes even joke and chat together, everyone understands that Gen must either secure the treasure or die trying. What each character does not realize, however, are the secrets harbored by the other members of the company.

The Thief is a superbly written novel by an author with a strong command over the English language. The story is well-plotted and unfolds very naturally. Turner slowly reveals smalls details about Gen's life and background over the course of many chapters, which creates an air of mystery around him and causes the reader to want to know more. The story as a whole is very descriptive, which makes it seem to move slowly in some places, but the more exciting scenes - especially when Gen is in the thick of trying to steal the stone and emerge alive from the temple - are utterly flawless and deeply engaging. Turner also deftly pulls off a plot twist, which is made possible only because of how carefully she chooses her words throughout the entire text. There is no sense, when the truth is revealed, that the reader has been duped or even manipulated. It feels more like the author suddenly turns on a light and particular details that have been in the story all along shine forth and reveal their truth purpose. The twist is impressive not because of how the reader has been fooled, but because of how well Turner hides the truth until it serves the story best to share it. 

This book was a pleasant surprise for me. It includes no real magical elements, which tend to be the hardest for me to connect with in fantasy novels, and is really very realistic aside from characters who talk to gods and goddesses and the overall re-imagining of history that serves as the backstory. The quest aspect of the story, and the properties of the treasure itself certainly place the book in the fantasy genre, but it is very different from the first dozen books I read for this project, and it is a book that will stick with me for a while. In the future, I hope to review the rest of the series: The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and any future titles Turner adds to the list! 

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