The Thief

The Thief was written by Megan Whalen Turner and first published in 1996. It is a high fantasy story that focuses on a small group of men on a quest to find an object with mystical powers. The novel forms the first part of The Queen’s Thief series and is followed by The Queen of Attolia (2000), The King of Attolia (2006), A Conspiracy of Kings (2010) and Thick as Thieves (2017). A sixth instalment – Return of the Thief – is expected to be released later this year.

Determined to prove himself as a master thief, Gen stole the seal of the King of Sounis. Unfortunately, he then had the foolishness to brag about his victory to everyone in the local inn and soon found himself a prisoner in the inescapable royal gaol. It seems as though he has been left there to rot, until the day when the magus – advisor to the King – comes to him with a proposition.

The magus has discovered the location of an ancient artefact – one with the power to crown a new ruler of the neighbouring kingdom of Eddis. Unfortunately, all parties who have gone to retrieve it have never returned. The magus needs the skills of a thief and is willing to offer Gen his freedom in return. However, if Gen refuses, the magus has the power to ensure that he will never see the light of day again.

With the protection of a skilled soldier called Pol, and the magus’s two apprentices – Sophos and Ambiades – the party sets off on a long journey across three nations, each on the edge of war with each other. Their success will determine who will rule over these countries for centuries to come. However, if any of the other rulers catch wind of what the magus has planned, they will stop at nothing to destroy them.

It’s certainly been a while since I last stumbled across a book that completely failed to engage me on every level. Even if a book isn’t for me, I normally try my hardest to look for something positive that I can say about it. Unfortunately, The Thief was one of those novels that I really struggled with. It wasn’t because the content of it was objectionable in any way. Sadly, I just found it to be rather dull.

It took me a long time to fully get my head around the world-building of The Thief. While it is not actually set in Ancient Greece, it certainly evokes this aesthetic in the naming conventions of the characters and pantheon of Gods and Demi-Gods. The mythology was rich and could possibly have been interesting, were it not for the fact that it did not seem to be tied organically into the story. While we do learn about things like the creation myths of the world, these are delivered through clunky dialogue, halting the story as the characters discuss their legends at length around the campfire for what can only be the readers’ benefit.

The politics of Turner’s world is even harder to grasp. The complex situation between the kingdoms of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia is gradually revealed through expository dialogue between the protagonists, slowing making clear that the three kingdoms basically sit in a line, with the two on either side keen to control Eddis as the only reason that they can’t invade each other is because neutral Eddis is blocking them on either front. Yet it took me a long time to figure out that this was the case. The novel has a habit of name-dropping places, people and wars that are completely alien to the reader. It didn’t even dawn on me that the entire cast were from Sounis until embarrassingly far into the novel! I felt as though I was grasping in the dark for a while and this was something that could have easily been avoided. Even a map would have been enough to make clear to the reader how the three kingdoms were connected.

Yet my biggest issue with The Thief was its complete lack of structure. The novel takes the form of one massively long journey in which very little actually happens. We follow Gen’s party day by day for what must be a couple of weeks as Turner tells us what they eat, where they sleep and details the brief expository conversations that they hold in between. While there are a couple of points where the story felt as though it was picking up steam (such as during Gen’s actual mission), these were over far too quickly. For the most part, it was just a novel about a group of men travelling in one direction, only to then turn around and return where they came from.

The one thing that encouraged me to keep reading were numerous reviews that I saw on Goodreads which promised me that it got better. While I appreciate that this just my own opinion, I respectfully disagree with all of these. Although some readers have praised the novel for its twist, I felt that the blurb gave far too much of this away. The twist itself is not that original or impressive and only occurs a few pages away from the end of the novel. While I obviously will not spoil this for you here, I will just say that I did not think it was much of a gamechanger and it certainly did not spark my interest enough to make me want to read on. In fact, I had actually figured out what was going to happen at least a hundred pages before it was revealed.

I could not even find any common ground with the characters. As the novel’s first-person narrator, I would have hoped that Gen at least would be likeable, yet he was not to my taste at all. It was clear from very early in the story that he was potentially unreliable and I did not find his constant “comebacks” to be especially funny. More than anything, he just came across as being whiny. Most of his dialogue consisted of him complaining about how hungry and tired he was, which are not desirable traits for a protagonist.

The rest of the predominately male cast are ultimately forgettable. Of Gen’s four travelling companions, only Sophos’s behaviour seems consistent (even if it is mostly him just blushing a lot). The others flip between personalities constantly, with the unnamed magus being by far the most mercurial of the three. He is prone to complementing Gen in one chapter, only to criticise him for the same thing in the next. This inconsistency only served to make him seem rather bland on the whole.

Anyhow, apologies for the short review, but I don’t have a whole lot more to say. While I did initially think that the Mediterranean setting of The Thief sounded interesting, it had a weak plot, confusing world-building and forgettable characters. While I have been told that the series does improve after this book, I am certainly in no hurry to find out whether or not this is true.

The Thief can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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