Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
It’s always interesting when someone takes a fantasy novel and kind of moves it away from the Tolkien England/Norse “standard” fantasy you’ll find in a lot of books. In The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner gives the place far more of a Mediterranean feel. On an island next to a big continent sit three kingdoms: the powerful and frightening Attolia, the newly freed and hungry Sounis, with the mountainous Eddis in between.
The Thief deals mostly with Sounis; our young thief named Gen finds himself pressed into service for the King of Sounis to find an artifact. They travel through the lands of Sounis, Attolia, and Eddis to find a stone that will determine the rightful ruler of Eddis and set the country on the path to war.
This book is really all about myth and world building. There are three or four instances in the book where the advisor to the King of Sounis tells tales about the history of the stone they’re looking for as well as the mythology of the island and the three kingdoms. There’s also a lot of discussion about what’s going on, which is very much a set up for the other books in the series. In another book this could be really boring, but what really makes the book enjoyable is Gen. The book is written from his perspective and you get hints here and there that Gen isn’t quite the person he’s making himself out to be. There are hints that you’ll definitely pick up on the second or third read through, but they aren’t so obvious that your tween will get bored and figure out what’s going on.
There isn’t a lot of fighting in the book; there’s really only one battle scene near the end and it’s over pretty quickly. What the book really focuses on are the relationships between the characters, the adventure of trying to steal the stone, and what Gen is really up to. It’s not a particularly large book, so it’s great for a just-getting-into-books tween, but it’s enjoyable enough that your well-read tween will devour it and ask for the next ones.
The Thief is enjoyable, but it’s really the gateway to get to the next books in the series—The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings. What comes after is filled with so much more intrigue, danger, drama, and romance that this book pales in comparison to the others. However, if you’re worried about the appropriateness of the other books, The Thief doesn’t leave things off with a cliffhanger. You can read just The Thief and get a complete story. I know that I was unaware of those other books for a while after reading The Thief. The ending didn’t make me think to look for them.
What you’re getting out of The Thief is a good adventure tale with a minimum amount of blood, death, and war. It’s great for younger to mid-tween readers, and will be something you as the parent can get through rather quickly yourself if you want to talk about it. Kids who are into myths will particularly love The Thief.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
There’s a bit of a conflict between two different belief structures on the island. The heir to Sounis’ throne says his uncle is frustrated because having two sets of gods is like having two kings—no one knows who to give fealty to. Not that it’s a huge issue, but there’s a lot of talking about religion and mythology and who is right.
Sophos is the heir to Sounis, and his relationship with his uncle is troubled. Sounis doesn’t think Sophos is strong enough because he likes books. Gen has an issue with his cousins who would physically assault him; it comes up briefly but doesn’t really go into depth. Gen and his father don’t communicate well, which causes a lot of friction between the two of them.
This may be weird but stick with me. Gen complains about everything. The food isn’t right, the bed isn’t comfortable enough, why are they sleeping outside, why are they sleeping inside, why is it raining… There’s a reason for it, but just be prepared—there is a lot of complaining.
The story isn’t particularly violent. Gen stabs someone he doesn’t want to with a sword, and Pol shoves Ambiades off the side of a cliff. There’s some scenes where people are injured in various prisons in Attolia and Sounis.
This is a great book to segue into if you’re talking to your kids about myths, or if they have an interest in mythology. It’s also a great one to give your reluctant reader because it’s short enough to give them a good book to finish, and the ability to stop or continue with the series if they want, depending on their level of confidence. It also leads to some really great books, so if you can get them started on this one, get ready for the greatness of the rest of the series.