Release date: 27 December 2005
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Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)
"I can steal anything."
After Gen's bragging lands him in the king's prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king's scholar, the magus, needs the thief's skill for a seemingly impossible task - to steal a hidden treasure from another land.
To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.
Gen, a young and arrogant thief, has been imprisoned for several months in the king of Sounis' prison for stealing (and rather publicly bragging about it) before he's given a chance to earn his freedom. The majority of this book covers not the actual theft itself, but the long, uneventful journey leading up to it. Accompanied by the magus, his apprentices Sophos and Ambiades, and a guard, Pol, they travel to neighbouring country Attolia in order to further the king's political agenda. Of course, Gen has an agenda of his own.
Okay, so this is a hard book for me to review spoiler-free because most of its impact hinges on a big twist, and I've come to the conclusion that the twist is both what I loved most and what ruined it for me a little. (Hence the one star off.) Here's why:
Megan Whalen Turner sets up the book wonderfully. It's slow, for sure, and because it's quite a short book I spent the first half impatiently wondering if they'd ever get to their destination. The long journey is devoid of the action or, you know, theft that you'd expect from a novel called "The Thief". I was surprised, but not unhappily so, to find that the battles in this book are more mental than physical. Their journey is also interspersed with quite a few stories on the mythology of neighbouring country Eddis, which, while rather interesting, had me itching to skip ahead to see if this was going anywhere.
What had me pulling through was the knowledge that this was all setting the stage for something big. And Turner delivers. When they do arrive, the theft is so different and dangerous from what I expected that all that build up is worth it - and this is still 50 or so pages before the ending. The stories and legends turn out to actually have relevance, and there is a mythological aspect to this book that took me by surprise and added a lot of depth to the characters and the Greek-inspired culture.
Gen was pretty awesome as far as main characters go. While I can see why Gen may be viewed as annoying, I was surprised to find his arrogance and sense of entitlement pretty hilarious. For me, this only helped to amp up the suspense. He is so calm throughout the whole thing, so expectant, and the journey so uneventful, that you just know there's something more to his story. The whole first part of the book reminded me of a game of Cheat (or Bullshit, as some call it) - less like a story and more like a game of pretend, where everyone's putting down their cards and you know something's going on so you spend the entire time scanning them, waiting for them to mess up.
And that, for me, was the catch: because I'd read such amazing reviews of this book, I knew there was going to be a twist, so I fell into the trap of looking out for every tiny clue as to what it would be and kind of saw it coming. This kind of ruined the impact for me, and I was unfortunately a bit underwhelmed given the book's overwhelmingly positive reception amongst the people I know.
And now I'm doing the same thing by telling you that yes, there is a twist in this book, but please try, if at all possible, to let it go and not analyze it to death. Despite knowing all this, it was still a really cool, clever read, and the ending still had me smiling. Pick this one up to experience it yourself!