The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, is a pretty unique book. Like most YA it is written in 1st person perspective, and of course the protagonist is a young person. What sets it apart, however, is that Turner plays some pretty slick tricks on her readers and keeps us in the dark regarding a lot of what the protagonist is doing. She does this by jumping over scenes of high tension or action and then having the protagonist relate what happened later- after the fact.
So the truth about the protagonist and the major things he does throughout the book are played pretty close to the chest. This is both good and bad. It’s good because there are, ostensibly, some surprises throughout the book. I say ostensibly because it’s pretty clear what the major twists in the book are going to be. It’s bad, because, well, it feels artificial.
The Thief starts with the main character, Gen, in the king’s dungeons. Apparently he boasted that he could steal anything, then went and stole something from the king. He was arrested, tried in public, and tossed into the prison. He doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort to escape from the prison/dungeon, which seems a little odd for an intrepid thief.
Gen is sprung from the slammer by the king’s magus. The magus is the king’s faithful and number one adviser. The magus is taking his two apprentices and a soldier, and now Gen, on a surreptitious journey to find and steal a certain object that either endows the power of rule or the privilege of rule of the next country over.
So the story follows Gen and this group during their journey. Gen is a snarky lad of indeterminate age. He definitely thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and is often riling up the others in the party. These conflicts keep the tension in the book at a fairly engaging level.
Turner’s world is nicely realized and is clearly based on Greece’s geography, culture and sort of ancient mythology. Her writing is adept and confident.
I just didn’t like Gen. It’s not because he wasn’t interesting. He just didn’t seem like a real person. Would a person really be that awful to those around him all the time? And why should I like a person who seems incurably selfish? Only at the very end of the novel did I feel like Gen wasn’t using others for his own purposes, manipulating etc. Of course, this is just my take, but I never really felt emotionally interested in Gen’s story.
So I’m concerned about why this book won a Newberry Honor. Is it because it is so uniquely written, with an unusual voice? Surely there were other books published that year that told a story with sympathetic characters in a fully realized world with lovely prose.
In the end, the book isn’t bad. It’s just that I’ve always enjoyed stories that are driven by characters who seem like real people. These characters felt like artificial constructs that acted a certain way so that the book could be unique.
The Thief is an interesting experiment, but I don’t think I’ll return to the world that Turner created.
I remind you that I don’t like the Beatles. I recognize their ability, artistry and popularity. I don’t like them. Like I don’t like avocados. Basically, this may come down to taste, and you might not be able to trust my taste. Also, it’s a certainty that a mid-thirties, male, book-reviewer/author is not the target audience of this book.
I give this book 3.5 out of 5 pens.