REVIEW: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

REVIEW: The Thief by Megan Whalen TurnerThe Thief (The Queen's Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner
Published: Greenwillow Books (1996), Paperback, 304pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction

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. (from Amazon)

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.”

The author

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?

Read: November 13-15, 2010

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner”

  1. Oh, hooray, I am not the only book blogger that doesn’t Absolutely Adore this book! It was getting a little bit lonely over here for a while. 🙂

    I don’t think I’d really thought much about the term “unreliable narrator” when I read this one (or the second one), but you’re right, he is… I think I was less forgiving than you are of him being a whiny little twit, though.

    1. This is SO WEIRD because I was sure I’d be in the minority of those who didn’t lovelovelove The Thief, and yet most of the reviews I found felt the same way I did. Where’d all the gushing posts go? I was sure they were there a year ago when I bought the book. They’re WHY I bought the book. Strange~

      I sort of have an issue with narrators who seem like one thing and then SURPRISE they are another thing, and because they’re the narrator and a LIAR who is blocking out things and deliberately not telling you (the reader) the truth, you don’t get any clues to their true self/motives/etc. This happens in mysteries sometimes; I’m specifically thinking of The Fourth Side of the Triangle which did this and was a complete thorn in my side because there weren’t any obvious “this douchebag is lying, don’t trust him!” vibes or hints or anything, and I hate twist endings that are TOTAL surprises. (Suicide Excepted, another mystery, did this sort of thing really well, so it can be done and not be irritating/a complete surprise. Triangle was just poorly written.)

      The Thief DID have clues as to Gen’s true character, luckily, though they were the kind that you don’t realize are clues until at the end. Which is fine by me, but I wish there had been some stronger hints as to Gen’s unreliability before the last act of the book got underway. If I had guessed that he was lying or being false in some way earlier on, it would have made the first two acts much more interesting because I would have been distracted by trying to figure him out to pay attention to the slow pacing and whining.

      Anyway! Long comment is LONG.

  2. I too liked how Turner made the Magus and the other characters reasonable people rather than cardboard villains: they and Gen were sort of on different sides, as it turned out, but they had their reasons for being on the sides they were on.

    If it makes a difference, I liked but did not love The Thief (I was expecting it to be Patricia C. Wrede and was surprised to find it more textured than that), and I was increasingly impressed with each subsequent book. So perhaps you will have a similar experience. (She said hopefully)

    1. More textured because of the character depth re: the baddies? I can see that, although really that mean queen (what’s her name) who was on screen for like two seconds didn’t get any depth, but that might have been because she got such a small bit of the book.

      I do plan on reading at least the next book in the series, because I want to know more about the world and I think now that I’ve got the feel of MWT’s writing I’ll enjoy it more. 😀

  3. I never read the first book of this series because I stumbled across the Queen of Attolia first, and then progressed forward from there. It took me a while to get used to Megan Whalen Turner’s style of writing, because, like you said, the reader can’t really trust the narrator. So true. That almost did turn me off but then, as I continued reading, the characters kind of grew on me. I especially like the Queen of Attolia. I definitely suggest you at least read the second book! It’s from the point of view of the Queen and there are some interesting dynamics between her and the other characters, especially Eugenides!


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