Review of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. The Thief is Mediterranean fantasy young adult novel about a thief pressured into stealing an ancient treasure for the court.
My review of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
I really liked the The Thief. The characters and the relationships between them swept me up and carried me though what could have been boring travel scenes. This is very much a character driven book, where the relationships are the most interesting part of the book.
My review from 2015 of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
“I did not know how long I had been in the king’s prison.“
The Thief has been sitting in my to-read list for five years, ever since I came to goodreads, and I didn’t read it till this week. It was one of the books that Tamora Pierce had rated highly. Lately it kept coming up in my recommendations, so being out of book, I thought, what the hell I will go pick up the preview on kindle. So I read that and after half of it I bought the book and I just kept reading.
An interesting thing about The Thief is that for the first 40% of the book not much happens. Gen gets out of prison and they travel from point A towards point B. In most books that would bore me to no end, one of my main problems with Lord of the Rings and with the Hobbit is all the darn boring travel. But Turner makes it work!
The setting: Fantasy Greece
The Thief is clearly set in a fantasy version of Greece. The place names have changed, but all still sound greek and there is even a few greek philosophers mentioned. Some of the places described are places that I recognize from my antiquity lessons in high school (yes that was a mandatory subject and no it wasn’t cool) – like the lion gate of Mycenae.
Greek antiquity is a period in time that fascinates me. The mythology of the story mirrors greek mythology, without being a copy of it. Like the landscape and the places it is like looking at Greece though a warped mirror. It really works and it had me googling a lot.
The tech level of the story seems to be 1500s or so (pocket watches and early gunfire weapons was the giveaway). When I read fantasy set in something like Europe I tend to get hung up on trying to figure out when it is supposed to take place. Yes I am a geek I know, I know. I really like the idea of a Europe where Christianity never got to be the main religion but where a different religion swept the continent. I really liked the way the gods interacted with the world, that seemed very much in the spirit of the antique world.
The interactions between the five main characters is just so darn interesting. They all have interesting background that slowly gets revealed throughout the book and their interactions and relationships are so interesting that the plot itself really is secondary.
One thing I wondered about was the lack of female characters. As far as I can remember there were only three on stage characters who were female. Others gets mentioned but do not act in the story. The first is a innkeeper’s wife who is kind to Gen who is on the stage very briefly. And the other two are queens. The first queen is in the book for a single short scene. She is clearly a women in power and with a lot of agency. The other queen is way more important and play an active role in the latter part of the story. I can’t talk much more about her without spoiling things. This was not a book with a lot of named characters so I just mention this because I noticed, not as a criticism.
That leads me to my other point. I couldn’t help but feel like I was deliberately misled along the way. I know this speaks the point that Gen is an unreliable narrator, but I keep forgetting that this is a narrative told by one of the characters. I felt a tiny bit cheated. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the book though.
The stats: The Thief
Published: 1996 by Harper Collins
Length: 320 pages
Read: February 03 to 07, 2015
Author: Female, white, USA
The protagonists: Gen, male, heterosexual, non-white, short, thief, able-bodied.
This review was originally posted: February 7, 2015. Updated and edited June 30, 2023