The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is one of those books I knew I would write about eventually. It is one that I was ecstatic to snag at a library sale a few years back, have given more than once as a gift, and find myself recommending over and over again. Tonight, I heard the author is working on a new book for the (currently) 4-book series, and now I can think of nothing else. (This news is at least four years old. So why did I just hear about it today? I’m living under a rock, I guess.) Never mind the giant stack of books I picked up at the library today or the book I was going to write about; I want to curl up on the couch and work through The Thief and its sequels instead so I’ll be ready.
The book follows Gen, who can steal anything. This point is a matter of pride for him. What good is it to be the best if no one knows it? Taking a wager to prove his skill (and then boasting about his success) has landed him in prison, however, until the king’s magus offers him a way out: steal something for the king (though he will be given no details until the last possible moment) and he is free to go. Fail to procure the item, and the king will place a ransom on his head.
“I repeated myself. ‘I can steal anything.’
‘Except yourself out of the king’s prison? the magus asked, lifting only one eyebrow this time.
I shrugged. I could do that, too, but it would take time. It might take a long time, and I wanted the king’s magus to offer a faster way.”
All of this happens by page 12. The remainder of the novel follows the adventure and narrow misses of Gen and his companions as they attempt to steal an ancient treasure that might not even exist. I hesitate to say much more, because one thing Megan Whalen Turner does so fabulously is lay subtle clues all along the way. I am the last person to ever guess a plot twist, so I’m not a great judge of what might surprise the average reader. That said, the first time I finished The Thief, I immediately started again from the beginning. It has the sort of plot that only improves with each reading (as opposed to the kind that just seems gimmicky once you’ve read it once).
Another great thing about the book is Gen himself. He is so deliciously snarky and confident. He is my very favorite kind of character: witty without being over the top, talented at something cool (Thievery can be so glamorous in fiction. Not so much when someone steals your car stereo.), and complex enough to have more going on than what meets the eye. The part of me that still remembers literature classes in college would also like to point out that he is a great example of an unreliable narrator.
The Thief would be a great book for a middle grade reader. The last three books in the series are a little more intense and contain plot lines and off-stage action that may require a more mature reader. As for the aforementioned book 5, this is what she had to say about it four years ago: “When it comes to talking about what I am writing next, I told people that I think it’s teasing to drop hints about a book… for five years at a time. If I wrote books a little faster, I might be a little more willing to talk about what’s in them ahead of time. But I don’t, so I won’t. (Although, I will try to write faster, I promise, I promise.)” Her thoughts in their entirety can be read here.
Are the books worth the wait? YES. The whole series is fantastic. The King of Attolia (book #3) is my favorite, and that one was published 6 years after book #2. This year marks 6 years since the last installment, so don’t mind me while I obsessively check for any news of a publication date all year long.
I would recommend this to: middle grade and young teenage readers, as well as any age reader who likes a puzzle.