Monday, 11 May 2020

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Let me start this review by giving everything away, Man in Black style. The Thief has one strength, and it's about as big a strength as you can get in a book, and that is its immensely readable.

Now back to doing a proper review.

One of the joys of connecting with the fantasy community is finding out about a bunch of books I'd probably have never found out about otherwise. The Thief is definitely one of them. It's one of those books that gets put into the YA market too much for me to have probably noticed, and I can't say it seems to be particularly known in the UK market. But I've made friends who really rate Turner's books so when I found a copy, in I went.

The premise is that in a vaguely Greek-expy, there's a thief who got caught when he bragged about stealing the King's seal. When the King's foremost councilor drags him out of jail and into the countryside, he has little choice but to agree, even if he has a) to steal a sacred gem that's cost the life of every thief who's tried to steal it b) put up with the pretty much never-ending condescension of the councilor and chums.

That brings me neatly to my first quibble with The Thief. For me, constant backbiting in a small group is a bug, not a feature. If you disagree with me, read on! There's a good chance you'll like this book. I do have to say that as it goes, there's enough fun it I didn't stop reading. Turner has a nice turn of phrase - see the immensely readable thing again. If it's not you... well, it's still immensely readable and they do get a better relationship as things progress.

How that happens is quibble number two. The change from casual snobbery to a wary mixed working relationship is reasonably well done but still feels a little quick. The sense of actual camaraderie and sacrifice that comes later just made no sense to me, particularly as there's a savage decline in their working relationship before that point. It didn't hurt the book that much for me, but it didn't help it either.

Didn't hurt, didn't help sums up a lot of the book for me. I said The Thief has one strength and by that I mean only one. That said, those quibbles aside, it doesn't really have any weaknesses (and one of them is a very personal preference). There's a sense of world and it affects character dynamics, but it doesn't feel like there's a world outside the book that I must know about. The characters' personalities are well defined and reasonably well rounded, no less and no more.

There's just something about this book though that kept me turning pages long after I'd have given up on other books. I can't really put my finger on it or give it a name other than immensely readable. Nothing about the prose gets in the way, good turns of phrase are regular, and there's always a sense something's going to happen soon. She makes very good use of the ability of first person narration to bring a voice to a work. I finished it very quickly.

Ah. Speaking of finishing, that reminds me of quibble three, the biggest of them all. There's a twist in the end, a twist of the "rearrange everything because I omitted one vital fact" sort that feels like bad writing, particularly in first person. If you're the sort of reader that really doesn't like that, that wants to feel like they've got a fair chance of guessing what's going on... I straight up anti-recommend this book as hard as possible.

To everyone else? The Thief is pleasant light reading where enjoyment will hinge largely on how much you enjoy its particular conceits. All about thieves and enemies becoming friends? I think it might be worth a shot. Will I continue with the series? The answer would have been no, but I've been told it takes off from here. So maybe. It sounds worth a shot.

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