I picked up The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner while browsing the library shelves in the kids' fiction section. Sometimes books pop out at me and ask to be read. This was one of them. The cover has a pair of dirt-ingrained young man's hands holding a flattened spherical river rock with a glowing blue center. Also on the cover is the silver seal for being a Newbery Honor Book. Should be good, right?
Yes, it was. (What? Did you think I was going to give a different answer?)
Gen is in the king's prison. His bragging that he could steal anything, including the king's seal, led to his predicament. Oh, he successfully stole it. He just publicly showed it off in a wineshop to prove that he had. The guards mock him, asking when is he going to escape, and keep him chained at all times, even when other prisoners get to walk about in the prison courtyard for a bit of sun.
Now the king and his magus want Gen for his skills. The magus tells him, "There's something I want you to steal. Do this for me, and I'll see that you don't go back to prison. Fail to do this for me, and I will still make sure that you don't go back to prison." To add to the threat, the king shows him the small casket full of gold coins he will offer for Gen's capture if he tries to escape before recovering the desired object. A reward big enough that Gen would be hunted for life no matter where he goes. What else is a thief to do? Though he has no idea what he will be stealing yet (the magus says he'll learn that on the way), he accepts.
The Thief kept me engaged the whole way through. Gen is a fun character who entertained me with his interactions with the magus's apprentices and the guard accompanying them, and I loved the surprise reveal at the end of Gen's background and something he had done on the trip. Yet, the only thing that keeps me from giving this 5 stars is because of the reveal at the end. The book is in first person, so we should know things as we go about Gen. It's his thoughts we see. Yet, there are some places where it reads like Turner had either forgotten the true background or hadn't thought of that background yet. Small places like a page or a paragraph here and there or where there should have have some small clue or a different reaction.
Most of it works pretty well, because he isn't dwelling on the past, just contemplating his present. Turner does set up clues that he is more than he appears in the things that he notices, many of his comments, and that he does certain actions deliberately, like chewing with his mouth open. Something that someone from his supposed background would do, but not think about. And he finds it entertaining to see how it annoys the magus.
Since this was written for MG, I can forgive keeping so much of the true background a secret until the end, even with being in first person. Even though there are the bits that don't quite fit, overall, it was still a worthwhile read. The geography, the pantheon, and regional histories she created make the world a rich setting. She even included a section at the end about what inspired her world creation. I give this book 4 stars.
I think I will actually go look for the second book of Gen's adventures: The Queen of Attolia. I'm curious to see what he will do next, especially considering one of the things that happened near the end of The Thief.