Gen doesn’t know long he’s been in prison. Time is hard to measure based on circuits around his small cell. Certainly long enough to lose much of his strength and for sores from his shackles to begin to fester.
The achingly monotonous routine is broken when the king’s scholar, the magus, recruits Gen for a hunt of sorts. The magus knows the location of an ancient and valuable treasure that could change the balance of power between Sounis and Eddis in Sounis’ favor. The magus thinks Gen is the perfect tool to steal the object away. But like any good thief, Gen has secrets and plans of his own in The Thief (1996) by Megan Whalen Turner.
It’s hard to talk about this series without talking about myself. Eugenides and these books have been part of my life for more than a decade now; they’re in my blood and they are part of why I see the world the way I do and who I am in ways that are not always easy to explain.
In 2000 my mother did freelance data entry for HarperCollins where she could bring home free books (for me) including a lot of the books that I now think of as formative to who I have become. One of those books was The Queen of Attolia. I read it on its own and years later when I started working in my local library, I discovered The Thief and realized that I had read the second book in a series.
The Thief received a Newbery Honor in 1997 and, along with the rest of Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels, has garnered a faithful following and classic status among fantasy readers. Turner creates a world inspired by visits to Greece as well as the culture and pantheon of gods found in Ancient Greece. Using these bones Turner then develops the world further with a unique language and naming conventions, geography, and technology over a wide span of history (including clocks, pens, and maps) leading to parallels to the technologically advanced ancient Byzantines.
The Thief introduces readers to Eugenides, a thief, in this first-person narration where Gen is ostensibly relating exactly what happened after his arrest in Sounis. It is only as the story progresses that it becomes obvious that Gen is keeping secrets not just from the magus but from readers as well.
As Gen, the magus, and his retinue begin their journey Turner’s skills as a writer shine. Evocative descriptions bring the land of Sounis (and later pieces of Attolia and Eddis) to life. Gen’s razor sharp observations and cutting language paint his companions in stark detail while also chronicling his journey with a perfect mix of humor and annoyance.
Eugenides is an ingenious and clever thief, of course, but also unbelievably sympathetic and unique. His fierce intelligence, skills of deception, and keen grasp of the powers of language and presentation are all key aspects of his personality. They are also, because he guards his secrets so closely, things readers only begin to understand about Eugenides as The Thief nears its conclusion and it becomes obvious that Gen is always at least five steps ahead of everyone and always holding all of the cards.
The Thief presents a memorable cast of brilliant characters who will later populate the rest of Turner’s novels including royalty, spies, soldiers, and even gods. This story also lays groundwork for one of the most carefully plotted and intricate series I have ever read. Even seventeen years after I first read The Thief, even after re-reading it twice more, this novel manages to surprise and impress me with new details to discover and old memories to cherish.
If you enjoy The Thief, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater