Megan Whalen Turner
Greenwillow, 1996 (pb. 2005)
So, I’ve had a difficult time reading Game of Thrones. I’ll go into further details about that when I finish and manage to put together my thoughts. In the meantime it should be suffice to say that I had to interrupt my reread with a little bit of light reading. Since Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth is still checked out here at the library I scoured some rewards list for a Young Adult title to give a whirl. Over on the Nebula’s list was a title called A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner which, turns out is part of series beginning with The Thief, published in 1996 (and republished in paperback in 2005) and itself of a winner of the Newbery Honor. So, The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner became my refuge before the onslaught of blood and betrayal that marks the latter sections of Game of Thrones.
The Thief opens up with the titular thief wallowing away in a prison cell having been caught after bragging about stealing the king’s seal. Of course, wallowing isn’t perhaps the best word. Gen is certainly resigned to his current situation but remains remarkably relaxed and cool headed about the whole affair. Finally an opportunity comes, the sort of opportunity someone like Gen can’t quite refuse since it both plays to his ego and allows him a chance to get out from his prison cell. So, now employed by the King’s Magus (a scholar rather than actual wizard) Gen sets off to steal an ancient artifact for the king.
Turner has woven a fascinating world influenced, though not outright modeled on Greece. Familiar names, such as Archimedes, pop up in the novel but the deities of Gen’s world are something different from those of Greece, though in some aspects familiar. Over the course of Gen’s journey Turner uses several moments to explore some of the myths of the land. Not only do these sections provide ample flavor to aid in world building but they are used to carefully illuminate aspects of Gen’s character and subtly influence how he interacts with the world.
Gen is a fun character, a thief with quick wit and even quicker hands, not an unfamiliar trope of course but one that if written with considerable skill I’ve always found to be completely enjoyable. Turner is definitely skilled in this regard. Gen’s size and petulant behavior are used as masks to disguise his intelligence constantly tricking his companions into lowering their guard. Of course the depth of that intelligence isn’t revealed until the novel’s ending and the journey is definitely worth it. Despite Gen’s frequently flippant and carefree attitude Turner manages to infuse the story with some poignant and borderline horrific elements that lend a weight to the story that might otherwise be absent. Few of the characters are drawn as vividly as Gen though the young ducal heir Sophos and the Magus come closer. I actually warmed up to the Magus quite a bit. Initially I figured he would be a character to write off as a sort of authoritative foil to the rebellious Gen but over the course of the novel Turner manages to shade his a distinct and well-rounded human being whose motivations are not what readers, or Gen, would expect.
The Thief is a fantasy though initially light on the fantastic especially at the outset. There are no magic swords, or flashy spells the magic of The Thief is quieter and it serves the story well. For adult readers The Thief will be a quick, breezy read that could likely be read in one sitting. Despite it’s seeming brevity the novel proves to be a satisfying and thrilling story. Turner manages to capture the imagination with Gen’s quick wit and I look forward to seeing what befalls the character in future adventures (The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings).