Book Review: The Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

I fell in love with Gen the Thief nearly twenty years ago. I was a volunteer shelving in the Young Adult area of our local library, my favorite section, and was looking over The Queen of Attolia; the cover and title intrigued me. A young woman, not much older than a young adult herself, said, “That’s a great series! But don’t start with that book. You need to start with The Thief. In fact, try to forget what you read on that cover.” I had a fun conversation with her. And it turned out she was right in every way. I managed to forget most of what I read on The Queen of Attolia’s cover, and as soon as I started The Thief, I was captivated.

Gen, who is hardly more than a boy, brags he can steal anything. An audacious theft lands him chained in the king’s prison. Matters are rather grim. But the king’s scholarly advisor, the magus, has plans to use Gen as a tool for the king’s advantage. Thus begins a twisting adventure, told in Gen’s wry, wily, cranky voice.

And that is only the beginning! There are six books, a grand series told over twenty years in our time, but only a few years (I think) in the world of the book.

These stories at first feel less like high fantasy and more like, as Laini Taylor says, “a secret, discovered history of real but forgotten lands.” There are resemblances to the landscape and culture of Ancient Greece, “if a civilization like theirs had developed another thousand years without the rise of monotheism,” as Megan Whalen Turner wrote in her note at the end of The Thief. Several echoes of Ancient Greece appear over the course of the series. The mythology, largely Turner’s own, is rich and real – more real to some of the people in the books than others. There are myths recounted by characters throughout the books, and they are some of my favorite parts.

Barnes & Noble’s website says that the novels can be read in any order – but good heavens, DON’T do that. It’s true that each book is a complete story in itself – no cliff-hangers sent me rushing to the next book. But there is a larger story told over the course of all the novels. Story threads weave through, intertwine and form greater threads. People in the books grow and evolve and change over time, some of them in remarkable ways. A book will mean so much more if you’ve read all the books that came before it.

So start with The Thief – read the back description if you like, and if it intrigues you, dive in.

I started the final book, The Return of the Thief, with some trepidation and even dread – fearing that some character I’d grown to love would die. And I deeply loved so many of these people. This last book brought tears to my eyes more than once. But the ending was deeply satisfying.

A number of the novels have short stories at the end. I’ve read and treasured them all as little gems, and ways to linger in Gen’s world. The short story at the end of the final book is my favorite of them all.

November 1st of this year, Moira’s Pen came out. For those who have read the series, it is a coffer of small treasures: short stories old and new, “vignettes and excerpts, poetry and rhymes… and a very special recipe for almond cake,” as the author’s website says.* There are the author’s reflections and memories of places, sculptures, and objects that inspired her. And there are beautiful illustrations and decorations by Deena So’Oteh, including of some of those artworks and objects (if you’ve ever wondered what a fibula pin looks like, now you can see!) Also included is a map. I love a good map in a novel. There have been three maps shown in different books of this series; two of them have small mysteries. One mystery came clear in the last book; the other remained a puzzle, until Moira’s Pen.

The entire series is one of my favorites of all time and I give it 5 stars. Moira’s Pen is a beautiful capstone to the series, for those wanting to spend a bit more time in Gen’s world and to learn more about it.

*Barnes & Noble’s website says Moira’s Pen “is ideal for longtime fans, as well as readers discovering Megan Whalen Turner’s epic and unforgettable world for the first time.” The former I certainly agree with, but new readers should only read it AFTER reading the previous six books. Otherwise you risk spoiling important parts of the whole series. Also: if you want to avoid spoilers, be careful what you read on the author’s own website. It’s a fun place to explore after reading the series, though.

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