The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

thief-megan-whalen-turnerThe Thief (The Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner, published in 1996 by Greenwillow Books. Goodreads. Author.

Genre: YA fantasy.

Source: library.

The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities. What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses. (Goodreads)


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My rating: 2.5/5.

I had really high hopes for this book. A number of bloggers that I really like (and like to think I share book taste with) rated it high on Goodreads, and it’s supposed to be a classic YA fantasy novel, so I knew I had to read it. It also got a bunch of awards, including Newberry Honor (see the silver badge on the cover?). My final verdict, however, would be a very lukewarm meh.

megan-whalen-turner-bioEven before I started reading the story, I noticed this author description on the book jacket. What the hell is this?! Why is a prominent fantasy author described as a wife to this unknown husband?

So you see, this book and I didn’t get off to a good start. This feeling didn’t improve, thanks to several factors:

  • The worldbuilding. Even without this author description, I would have pegged the mythology and landscape as Greek-inspired. The mentality, transportation, technology, and religion all seemed to be ancient, but they had guns as well (?)While the names of the gods (and the creation myths) were changed, they essentially stayed the same. I was vaguely bored with the stories of these mythical individuals and there was nothing really magical in this world apart from them. I’m also not a huge fan of stories where gods have actual roles. Maybe I would be more satisfied with this whole thing if I read it as if it was historical fiction. But probably not.
  • The characters. Apart from Eugenides (Gen), who was actually a clever, cunning little devil, I didn’t like a single one of them. Five men set out on this journey (Gen is a thief who gets pulled out of prison but doesn’t know what he’s supposed to steal) and they bicker all the time, but not in a fun way. The magus, the second most important character in the story, is unlikeable and aloof, the two spoiled noblemen are more trouble than they’re worth, and the soldierly type that accompanies them only follows orders blindly. Ok, this may be a bit of an exaggeration but I really disliked them all.
  • The portrayal of women. Umm, wait. What women? The three female roles that I’ve come across were very, very small, some attention was given to the women’s outward appearance, and the sum of their appearances would fill perhaps 7 pages of this 200-page book. What do you do when characters spout nonsense like this: “She is not so secure on her throne that she can risk offending her people’s gods. No woman could be.” What? Ok, so two countries out of three mentioned have female rulers, but what help is this if they are mere puppets, have all-male entourages, and receive no respect? Gah.
  • The pacing. Oh my god this book dragged along like a tired mule. They walked and walked and rode and rode and bickered and slept and ate and NOTHING HAPPENED. Right until the end, that is.

So why didn’t I give The Thief an even lower rating?

Well, I admit I kind of enjoyed Eugenides and his sulky ways. He was such a little shit at times and I wanted to smack him but I admired his ability to get on his companions’ nerves. That kind of stubbornness takes dedication and a strong will. So yeah, he’s one character that I actually liked.

The other reason is this huge twist in the story that makes up (a tiny bit) for the lack of action in the first 90 % of the story. It’s the one reason I miiiight consider reading the next book in the series if I ever get my hands on a copy. So you see, this book and I, we weren’t meant to be.

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Did you read The Thief? What about the sequels? What did you think?

Should I give Eugenides another chance?

  • R

    I, too, was a little underwhelmed by book 1 on its own, but I now love it in hindsight. The twist and Gen were always my two favorite parts, too.

    The second book gets much darker and more emotional very fast – and also gives a lot of viewpoint time to the women characters – and explores the dynamics of their (very differently managed) authority positions. It’s not to say that you’ll necessarily love it, but it is VERY different from The Thief, so I would recommend at least giving it a try. The pacing in it isn’t always the fastest, but it certainly keeps going.

    • Kaja

      Hi, thanks for stopping by :)
      Huh, this is a great comment – I seriously doubted the popularity of this series but if it really changes, that explains it. I always want to give books a fair chance to impress me so I’ll probably give it another try!

  • Oh no! This one is on my TBR pile and, of course, it’s sitting unread on my shelves. Like R, I’ve heard that the series improves over time…but I don’t usually continue a series if my rating for the first book was less than three stars. I love a good plot twist and I have a grudging affection for characters who are little shits, but I think I’m still going to hold off on this series.

    That author blurb is truly horrible. This is one of those moments where paratext becomes really important, you know? What you choose to surround your book with says a lot about you as an author (and your book, as an extension thereof). Assuming that Megan Whalen Turner wrote that blurb herself, anyway. Sorry this one was so meh!

    • Kaja

      GAK, no! You see, I hate it when this happens. What if I put you off this book now and it’s actually MADE for you and now you’ll miss out on it and then finally read it 20 years from now and you’ll say: WHY did I trust Kaja on this? I have to write a blog post on this problem – I love recommending good books to people but I really dislike discouraging others from reading certain books that were a bad fit for me! :)

      Yeah that blurb… I have no idea who wrote it but it’s a disaster. If it was Turner, she’s got a really low opinion of herself. If it was a publicist or something, they should be kicked in the butt. If I was an author and saw this on my book, I’d be livid.

  • R

    In all honesty, if The Thief looks to be tremendously not your kind of book (to whoever is considering it), it isn’t a terrible idea to start somewhere else in the series. From what I remember, Megan Whalen Turner herself has said that each order in which to read the books has advantages and disadvantages. So if The Thief doesn’t appeal, perhaps just starting at book 2 or 3 would work.

    You can tell I’m a fan of this series… but truth be told, the books are each so different from each other and hang together more in terms of time, theme and character than a single overarching huge plot line (though there are certainly continuing elements).

    • Kaja

      Haha I can see that you’re eager to spread the love for this series :) I like it. I have several series that I will recommend to ANYONE at ANY TIME so I understand the feeling (it’s Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch for me, for example).
      I’ll try to get my hands on book 2 then – but I thought the sequence was important (as it is with most series like this).