218. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Publication: Greenwillow Books (December 27, 2005), Paperback, 304pp / ISBN 0060824972
Genre: MG Fiction
Rating: Borrow it
Read: November 13-15, 2010
Source: Bought (almost a year ago exactly)
Summary from Amazon:
After Gen’s bragging lands him in the king’s prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king’s scholar, the magus, needs the thief’s skill for a seemingly impossible task — to steal a hidden treasure from another land.
To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.
The Thief wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I think I was assuming it was something like a Robin Hobb novel mixed with a Kevin Crossley-Holland book, and really it’s more like a Patricia C. Wrede book. Not that that’s a bad thing, but when you’re expecting a pseudo historical fiction/fantasy book with a darkish tone to it, and it’s really more of a lighthearted romp through a fictional country with a character who could have been one of the clowns in Shakespeare’s comedy plays…it’s a little jarring.
I spent much of my time wondering why the other characters didn’t hit Gen more because he was so frickin’ annoying. He was whiny and a braggart and all he did was sit on his butt and talk about how awesome he was. I didn’t really like him, and I did a LOT of scoffing– mostly whenever he was bragging about his mad elite thieving skillz. It was also a somewhat slow beginning, and this didn’t help me enjoy the story.
HOWEVER. (There are spoilers up ahead.) By the time I got to the end I understood two things: 1) that Gen being uber annoying was a blind for his true character, and 2) this meant that everything else in the book was a blind for something else. I should have probably realized that, because there are enough hints in the first half to throw doubt on at least three of the characters in The Thief, which meant that I should have also doubted Gen’s supposed character. I guess I wasn’t expecting double bluffs in pseudo-fantasy books so I didn’t notice any of that until the second half of the book. And, of course, after the reveal I could pick out all the clues and say “AHA! So that’s what was going on.”
Anyway, this duality of, like, everything actually made me like The Thief more than if it was just a book about an irritating wannabe thief. I also liked that the “bad guys” weren’t only that. The Magus and his group could have been entirely portrayed as greed, stupid, cruel oafs, but instead they’re just people who have faults and make mistakes. Even the meanest one of them is somewhat relateable.
I’m still a little unsure about how I feel re:unreliable narrators, because I tend to enjoy them only if I know from the start that they’re unreliable. Just because Gen was a thief didn’t mean he was a liar as well, and so I didn’t assume he was unreliable until nearly the start of the third act, when his own agenda started showing up more visibly. A secret unreliable narrator makes me feel like I was tricked, and that always makes me dislike the book more than if I knew about the unreliability before hand. I think it’s a little unfair, but, well, that’s how I feel. Sorry.
I did really like how Ms Turner based the book’s world on more Greek mythology and history than the more overused English/Welsh/Celtic stuff. It feels more fresh, unique. And I liked the little hints of modernity in there; it’s almost steampunk (except I don’t think there was steam-powered things). It’s obvious that we only get a tiny bit of the world in The Thief, and I do really want to read more about that world. It seems interesting.
Whatever my problems with the characters, I did (mostly) enjoy reading The Thief. The ending definitely made up for the issues I had with the beginning. I think I’ll probably read the next few books– I think the fourth one just came out?
I just don’t think I’ll fangirl over any of them like some other bloggers do, which makes me sad. Maybe if the other two books don’t have unreliable narrators, I’ll like them better?