by Megan Whalen Turner
Series: The Queen's Thief #1
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: December 31, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
The king's scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king's prison. The magus is interested only in the thief's abilities.
What Gen is interested in is anyone's guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.
I started reading this book as a teen when I ducked into a Barnes & Noble during a rainy visit to New York City. I remember sitting spellbound in front of the shelf, highly amused at Gen’s antics, and spent much longer there than I’d intended. And of course I went home with that book! When someone on one of the discords I’m on mentioned reading it for the first time, I realized I still needed something for my pre-2011 series for Cannonball Bingo. Nothing like an excuse to reread an old favorite, right?
Months ago, Gen was arrested for stealing the king of Sounis’ seal (and bragging about it) and then thrown in prison. Freed by the king’s magus, Gen is now being drug along on some sort of trip that needs his thieving skills. But exactly what is going on with their mission is something that takes nearly the whole book to find out…
“No one would mistake you for anything but a tool, Gen. If a sword is well made, does the credit go to the blacksmith or to his hammer? How much smarter than a hammer can you be if you flaunt the proof of your crimes in a wineshop?”
And that’s pretty much all I’ll say about the plot, as this is one of those books it’s best not to know too much about before starting it. For a young adult adventure novel, this is a very slow paced book. While I remember enjoying it the first time through, it’s one of those books that definitely improves on a reread, for various reasons. Much of the book is not action based (though that changes in the last quarter or so) but character focused, mostly on Gen and how he interacts with the rest of the party. Gen is a fascinating character. He’s clever, but also admittedly impetuous and a bit hot headed, so he has a habit of getting himself into scrapes and then having to figure out how to get himself out. He spends a good chunk of the book whining for more food and to rest, which, relatable, especially for someone who’s recovering from months in prison.
Though Gen can be charming when he wants to, he can’t help but needle the magus, who’s in charge of the party. Accompanying them are two more children, Ambiades and Sophos (whom he quickly dubs “Useless the Elder” and “Useless the Younger”), and a soldier named Pol. While Ambiades seems set on making his disdain for Gen clear, Sophos is much kinder, and he’s truly a sweet kid. Gen works hard to keep up his dislike of the whole party (something the magus and Ambiades, by turn, definitely make easier) but keeping to the selfish gutter rat persona he’s perfected is harder than he expected, which adds some unexpected complications.
One of the things that makes this book slower is the huge amount of world building. The world is vaguely Greek-inspired, from the names to the food to the climate. There’s a lot of backstory for the three kingdoms (Sounis, Eddis and Attolia) and the various political maneuverings around them that are meant to set the stage for later books. Interspersed with that are stories about the gods and goddesses, mostly ones about Eugenides, the god of thieves, and Gen’s namesake. It’s a bit obvious about the info-dumping, between the myths and the magus’ quizzing of the two boys, but I found it so fascinating that I didn’t care. The writing is absolutely excellent, direct and to the point, and it makes the book absolutely magical.
Overall, while this certainly isn’t the best book of the series, it’s one I remember with a lot of fondness.