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The Thief: Megan Whalen Turner

Ever since both Liz from A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy and Leila from bookshelves of doom put Megan Whalen Turner's The King of Attolia on their Best Books of 2006 (So Far) lists, I've been wanting to read it. However, as I am compulsive about reading series books in order, I had to go back and start with the first book in the trilogy, The Thief. This book was a Newbery Honor book for 1997, and is approaching the 10-year anniversary of its original publication. The story is set in a fictionalized Greek landscape, with echoes of both ancient and modern Greece.

The Thief begins with young Gen (short for Eugenides) languishing in the king of Sounis's prison. An accomplished thief, Gen had bragged to the wrong people, and ended up, after a celebrated trial, shackled in a small cell. After several months, however, the king's scholar, the magus, removes Gen from his cell. He plans to use Gen as a tool to help him to steal something, for the greater benefit of the kingdom of Sounis.

With the magus, and three of his assistants, Gen travels a great distance, to the country of Attolia. He suffers many humiliations and privations along the way, but also unexpected kindnesses. Once he recovers his health (being in prison not having been particularly beneficial for him), his natural pluckiness shines through. He stands up for himself, especially against the arrogant Ambiades, and the autocratic magus. He tells his companions a bit about his history as a thief, and about his family, and even participates in the telling of stories around the evening campfires. And he participates in an epic theft.

The ending is a surprise. I hesitate to say much more in this review, because I would hate to ruin the story for anyone. I love books that can surprise me, especially if, looking back, I can see that all the clues were there for me to have figured things out on my own. I would advise you to read this series in order, however, and to not even read reviews of the next two books, until after you have read this one.

The Thief is a quick read, filled with adventure. There are sword fights, dangerous passages, and unexpected betrayals. What makes this book stand out, however, is the complexity of the characters. Gen is engaging and mischievous, and full of surprising quirks. The magus also turns out to be more multi-layered than he appears at first. The friction between the two of them feels real, and adds humor to the story. Overall, this is a very satisfying read, highly recommended for kids nine and up.

Book: The Thief
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Greenwillow/Puffin
Original Publication Date: October 31, 1996
Awards: Newbery Honor, 1997
Pages: 224
Age Range: 9-12
Other Blog Reviews: Journal of an Avid Reader, Swarm of Beasts, The Tome Reader

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.