REVIEW: The Thief

Megan Whalen Turner
The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1)
Greenwillow Books
ISBN-10: 0060824972
ISBN-13: 0060824976
Young adult fantasy
December 27, 2005

Blurb via Goodreads:

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 fro, 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.

This book and I have been eying each other for a while now. I have read many of your wonderful reviews for the series, all you other sly book bloggers. Although it’s been a while (and I avoided rereading reviews so as to not taint my impressions here…not that y’all are taint-er-a-tors…you know what I mean), the overwhelming majority is that the books are made of win. But there’s something I can’t figure out. It’s foremost in my mind about this first in the series and it will not rest. It’s because, as a reader, sometimes I want to try to figure things out, the feelings others feel when they’re falling rather fast and hard for a book. A book that, much to my impatient dismay, I really didn’t find the same love within. In fact, it’s safe to say this book drove me batshit crazy for the longest time.

I spoke with several fans of this book via twitter, goodreads, etc. over the last couple of weeks and the majority rule was that the book gets better in the last chapter. I want to assure each and every one of you that I don’t ascribe blame to folks who rec books I end up not liking. That would be plain silliness, not to mention assholery of the lowest order. I made the decision to buy and read this after all. I’m a big girl reader and I fully believe in taking responsibility for how books make me feel.

That being said, given the fact that the book is pretty much absolutely mind-numbingly boring in my experience until the last chapter (with one or two smaller exceptions), I can’t give the book a pass based on that one good chapter alone. I just can’t. I read this thing while on the treadmill a good bit. I almost fell off said treadmill while rolling my eyes at yet more mundane travel detail. The entire expanse of this novel’s landscape, across three separate countries, mind you, is fraught with perilously mind numbing nothingness. Unless them eating yogurt and oatmeal almost religiously their first few days and scraggly, rocky terrain floats your boat, there’s not much to see for eleven chapters worldbuilding-wise. I wasn’t sure if we were looking at some kind of Greek-based, yogurt land of plenty with matching Greek gods to boot (the similarities to Greek mythology seemed almost promising, but….eh, I wasn’t very impressed in the end with the attempts to lighten the landscape drudgery with tales of gods and strife and, basically, what felt like my own struggles with the book), or some not-much-cheerier version of Mordor with it’s dystopia and general barrenness. My God, at least Mordor had a giant bloodshot eye with insecurity issues to spice things up.

I suppose one could say Attolia’s queen (Attolia is the country the book takes place in for the most part, the others being Sounis and Eddis, which flank Attolia, one of either side – at least that’s how it seemed to me reading my ebook version, my supply of Greek yogurt and steel cut oats for a series map!) is like Sauron – but that would be giving her way too much credit. Even though she’s not confined to a tower and pulsing with fiery doom from her eyeballs (how awesome would that have been), her cameo appearance is short to say the least. In that wide-open expanse of her country, you almost miss her if you blink. Except, her appearance did hail one of the only parts in the book I liked, and it shows a spark of how good a writer Whalen could be – if she’d only knocked it off with that thrice-damned landscape detail! Observe, Gen has just met the apparently eeevil woman, and one line shows so much about her and I loved it:

 Her red peplos swept across the back of my hand as she turned to leave, and I winced. The velvet was soft, but the embroidery scratched.

OK, so that’s two lines, I suck at counting. I also lost track of how many times I was tempted to skim the travel chapters,  but it was a lot. Have no fear, I did make myself backtrack and read them. Mostly. But anyway, those lines tell me everything I need to know about Attolia’s queen. Succinct, powerfully image-invoking goodness right there. Yo, Travel Chapters, are you listening? No, of course you’re not. I think I hate you.

But I need to interject here with a little more on the worldbuilding before I forget – the guns. Say what? Where did the guns come from? I read in a fantastic post by the author herself (over at Chachic’s Book Nook, she did a great week-long celebration for the series) that Gen’s age is purposefully left vague so that the reader can make up their own minds. Is the worldbuilding also falling into this tactic? Because I just cannot make up my mind what this book’s world is supposed to be. It’s most certainly a fantasy book, there are made up kingdoms and that’s cool. I want to say it feels very Medieval-based. But again with the guns and later on rifles are mentioned. Say huh? I mean, HUH to the WHU? I just do not get it. I don’t get so much about this book! I want to feel certain about something. But let’s move on.

Gen was our first person protagonist. I’ve heard many a reader in this last year alone say how much they enjoy a thief as the main character. I just want to be able to connect somehow to them no matter their profession/hobby/fetish/anything. Please let me get into their heads and come to know them. I don’t feel like I got that chance with Gen, or Eugenides as he’s apparently actually named. In fact, Gen feels rather distanced from the book – until we get to the few parts where this tone changed. The first instance I noticed a significant change in him (and perhaps it was meant to be a clue), was when he and his party of Sou…nese (?) citizens finally, after all that boring travel, make it to The Place They Are Going After So Much Travel Detail. This is where Gen is to prove his skills as a thief, the entire reason for him being released from the king’s prison back in Sounis. They’re after a mythical object that will allow the king certain, er, liberties, without giving too much away. I feel like we see a totally different side of Gen here, perhaps because he’s in his element as a thief, though the temple’s secrets do almost do him in.

It took me a little while to remember that Gen is supposed to be an unreliable narrator, given what I recall from other reviews. It’s a term I’ve only heard within the last couple or years or so of blogging, and if I’ve encountered them prior I wouldn’t have known. Basically, an unreliable narrator is a character whose voice we aren’t sure we can completely trust. Readers may not even realize this till the very end if a twist is revealed or there may never be an actual reveal; the reader may always wonder if what the character reveals at any point is actually what is real and happening. The closest I can think of in terms of recent movies is Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan, whose paranoid world was so pervasive that viewers never really know what she was seeing and doing was real or not.

In The Thief, upon reflection, I can see how the author has tried to make Gen an unreliable narrator, but it all hinges on whether or not this is successfully done for the reader – were they hooked, were they sucked in? I hate that I wasn’t really at all until that last chapter. The reveal of the character’s true nature ought to be something that gives a final satisfaction in this case, but I was left feeling mildly amused at Gen as opposed to blown away and thankful for what I’d gone through to get to the end, when it all finally becomes interesting. Even reflecting back through the book to finally see even a clue or two more than I realized at first isn’t enough because, quite simply, the story wasn’t interesting enough in those long eleven chapters. The book is actually pretty short, but it felt like slogging through mud.

Other characters felt minor to me when it was all said and done, even the magus, Sophos, Pol and Ambiades, who all accompany Gen on their long excursion into Attolia. Although, I must admit that, at the end, when Gen’s true role is revealed, the magus’ reaction is priceless. Then the grinning came and I was basking in a moment of utter delight – a feeling I wouldn’t have minded feeling before then once or twice. While Gen has an amusing voice at times, his humor lightening it up a little, it is only a slight little. No one other than Gen is particularly well developed, and he wasn’t interesting enough till the very end of the book to carry any of this off for me. God, I feel like I’m repeating myself uselessly at this point. Other than to say that I noted the Newberry Honor seal on the coveer and wondered “WHY” repeatedly, there’s not much more to say. I do plan to read the rest of the series because, like this one’s one good chapter, most everyone says the rest of the series is superbly better and I have a need to try to see why and if I’ll agree. Me, I’ll be getting them from the library.

Rating: Two and a Half Scoops

Series order:

  • The Thief
  • The Queen of Attolia
  • The King of Attolia
  • A Conspiracy of Kings
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

16 comments

  1. I am sorry you did not like the book, and I agree with you, the last chapter of a book cannot make the whole book better. Hope your next read will be great again.

    • Oh, it’s OK. :D We all feel this way sometimes about much-loved books. It can’t be loved by everyone. It’s still fun to try to hash out why in a review.

    • I’m all for moving on and enjoying the other books. Hopefully. This was just not a good start to the series and frankly I’m amazed it’s so beloved. I mean, I’m glad people enjoy a book even if I didn’t, always…but I am flabbergasted still at the willingness to overlook almost an entire book’s worth of snoozing. I need to go and read some reviews again for this book, but I might just have to chalk it up in the end to some like/some don’t.

  2. Ha! OK, so I think I must have some kind of crazy patient gene because I keep running into reviews of books I adored where people just found the pace TOO SLOW. And I’m like: whaaa?? This is an example! I must be focusing on something else? Like the puzzle bits – getting to the treasure in the temple for example, or the meaning behind what the gods are up to, and what Gen is really up to? Or something? Anyway, I had a different reaction than you did, clearly. And of course I don’t mind that I loved it and you didn’t. It’s INTERESTING…I’m like: man, differences. I’m forever working on my predictions if someone is going to like a book or not.

    • It wasn’t just that the pace was too slow, it was that the events throughout most of the book were incredibly boring, which *can* lead to a general feeling of turtle pace syndrome.

      But I’ve read slow books before that were absolutely gripping, books whose pace were absolutely in no hurry. A good example of the unreliable narrator that was, for me, a good read for all its slow pace yet Have-to-Know-More-Now enthrallment was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It meanders through the lives of its characters, but that meandering always met with just the right amount of subtle detail that clicked with me – that didn’t happen for me with this book unfortunately.

      The things you mention that were the interesting tidbits – those were what was interesting for me, too, but they felt overshadowed by what felt like the larger issue of describing every last detail of their traveling and the landscape details – WHY so much attention to these things, which in the end are completely inconsequential? That drove me insane. The tidbits that are interesting didn’t manage to rise above that mind numbing minutia.

      That being said, in spite of it all, I love that folks love this series. I’ll be pushing on with the series as soon as I can.

      • Sorry, “boring”, not “slow”. I should have been more careful in reading your review.

        I do a reread I need to pay more attention to the details of the traveling and landscape details since I don’t really remember there being so many. I do remember a part about a sea of olive trees which apparently has to do with the setting being loosely based on Greece.

        The guns bit, I do remember, and I was surprised by it too. That part was explained somewhere.. I think I had an “extras” in the back of the book by the author where she talked about throwing in some modern things like guns and watches in there on purpose. I need to go dig it up, because I don’t recall the reason why.

        • Oh, interesting about the gun explanations! I don’t think that was included in the ebook version I got, but I’m going to double check just in case. And on those mundane details, that kind of thing, when the characters seem to just be repeating the same things over and over for a while, it’s a peeve of mine. So I probably wax grumpy about it more than usual. :D

          Edited to add: Checked my Kindle ebook and nope, no author’s notes about the guns. Poop, I say.

  3. I’m sorry you had such a hard time going through this book. :( I remember I didn’t love it when I first read it but was blown away by The Queen of Attolia and The Thief grew on me as a reread. You already know that I’m a big fan of the series but like Janice said, I don’t mind that you didn’t love this one. I’m just hoping you’ll like the second book a lot more. :)

    • It’s no biggie in the long run. I just had to get my feelings onto my space is really all. :D

      I am looking forward to the next book, I just need to finish some others up and get over to the library.

  4. LOL Yes, the guns–I actually had the same question. But the books are fantasy, not historical (even though they feel like it), so they’re not set in any particular place and time.

    I’m not sure I would have made it through The Thief if I hadn’t read The Queen of Attolia and fallen in love with Gen first. It is a very low-key book until you get to the very end. The Queen of Attolia, on the other hand, is one of my favorite novels OF ALL TIME. Just keep in mind that things in Turner’s novels are never what they appear to be. :)

    • Actually it’s because the book is fantasy that I questioned the guns. It might not be a specific place and time as we know it, but there’s still the matter of worldbuilding and it’s very sketchy in this book. That being said, the guns still don’t make sense just because things are handed out in a very vague way. After continuing to think on this book, I don’t think I’m a fan of purposefully leaving so much of it all this vague, take-it-as-you-will world, characters, etc. I can understand purposefully leaving some things vague, like Gen’s age, but not most everything else as well. BUT, the book did also have a Greek-inspired feel. There are Greek words used in it. There’s a small attempt, but not anything more than that. I didn’t think it was set in Greece, but what little we do get makes me think of a fantasy world that does not include advanced enough technology for guns, not yet. If there are guns, then why was there no other technology along those lines as well?

      And I’m great with things being not as they appear to be. I love a good twist that I never saw coming, but those feel like a bigger payoff when the events before it unfold in an interesting, and hopefully gripping, way. If the novel makes me bored to tears before that twist, when all is revealed the “Aha!” moment should feel triumphant, not anticlimactic, which this one almost did for me. The events preceding it just were not enjoyable.

  5. I understand. Well-reviewed and kudos to you for hanging in there. I actually put this one down after getting about 75 pages in. Didn’t pick it up again for a few years. Finally did, finished it, and was like . . . cool ending. Had QUEEN on my shelf so picked it up to see where things went from there and was utterly lost to the awesome from there on out.

    So basically interested to see what you think of QUEEN. Hope it’s at least a not-boring, pleasantly entertaining story for you. :)

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting