The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner

January 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

Picking up a copy of the YA fantasy novel The Thief that promised “bonus content” in the form of, among other things, an interview with the author, I flipped to that section.  When she was asked what other books she would suggest for her readers, I expected her to mention some current YA and perhaps something older like the Prydain books.  She did mention some along those lines (Diana Wynne Jones for instance, if I remember correctly), but her first suggestion was Thucydides and his History of the Peloponnesian War.  If there’s a better anecdote demonstrating the modern YA respect for its readers, I haven’t heard it yet.

The funny thing is, it turns out The Thief is not at all a demanding book, maybe even by YA standards (though I admit I’m not widely read when it comes to YA).  Narrated in an irreverent first person by the titular thief, it describes how the protagonist is dragooned into an expedition to retrieve a long-lost artifact.  This artifact is rumored to have magical powers, but its real importance is as a means to legitimize the monarch of one of a handful of small, squabbling kingdoms.  Some of the cultural details of the kingdoms are based on ancient Greek culture (hence the connection to Thucydides) but most of the important elements (monarchies, dungeons, weapons) are bog-standard medieval.  Most of the narrative is spent outside of the cities, in any case.

The narrative has a couple of reversals of varying degrees of cleverness, but really this is a very simple novel: relatively short, maybe a half-dozen characters, and no real thematic complexity.  Some of the twists towards the end rely on the narrator withholding information, and while I don’t think that’s cheating, it obscures his character to some extent.  However, the execution of all this material is excellent, and while I would prefer more complexity, the sequel (which I’m currently reading) takes the characters in some very interesting directions.  Recommended particularly for YA readers, but any fantasy fan will enjoy it.

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