The Thief


Megan Whalen Turner


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 21, 2008

he Thief is a Young Adult book, aimed at readers ages 9-13. It won a Newberry Award, so I guess it is one of the best books written that year for young readers. This didn't seem like an award winner to me. Sure, it is a well told story with some fine characters, but it lacks the magic or inventiveness to make it a true classic such as Lloyd Alexander's the Chronicles of Prydain or the first three books of LeGuin's Earthsea sequence (Don't read the fourth book, Tehanu, that LeGuin added much later to the Earthsea sequence, it is just awful, while the first three books are great).

The Thief is the story of a brash young lad named Gen who boasts that he can steal anything. Gen soon finds himself locked into the dungeons of the king of Sounis. However, the Magus (chief advisor) to the king needs something stolen from a rival kingdom, so he drags Gen from his prison cell and offers a deal. Gen can go free if he will join the Magnus, or Gen can rot in prison forever. Naturally, Gen opts for stealing in the service of the king.

The Magus assembles a team of five to go after the desired artifact: himself (the Magus), Gen, a stalwart soldier named Pol, and two sons of high ranking nobles: Amiades and Sophos. This small band sets out to sneak into the kingdom of Eddis. The best part of the book is the development of these five characters. All five have genuine personalities and behavior. Gen displays a resourcefulness throughout the book, though Turner is careful to show several instances where others get the best of him. The weakest part of the book is the journey itself - this is nothing like Bilbo's epic adventure to the Lonely Mountain; the worst threat on Gen's journey seems to be going hungry or sleeping on cold ground. I wish there had been something more scary or challenging than finding a way through the olive grooves.

I like what happens when Magus and company reach the site that they want to loot. The ancient ruin is hidden behind a waterfall that stops flowing only a few days out of a year. Gen is sent in to explore the dangerous ruined temple, this part of the story is well done. Gen has to figure out a puzzle that clearly has eluded previous thieves - their bones lie strewn about the stone halls. The gods make an appearance - this is another part that is well told.

In the end, there are some surprises and double crosses. I didn't really like the big surprise about Gen, it wasn't clear to me what his goal was from the beginning. Why did he even bother with this scheme in the first place?

Overall, it is a good story that is a quick, straightforward read that works well as a stand alone story. I see it is the first book of the Queen's Thief Trilogy, I may pick up the next volume to see what happens next.