Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief is a masterpiece. This might be a bit surprising because it appears to be a fairly standard children’s book –just one more cover with pseudo-medieval patterns in a sea of Harry Potter imitations.
It is set in an alternate sixteenth century Greece, where several kingdoms bicker, making and breaking alliances and waging war. The Thief, however, is Gen’s story. Gen starts out in prison, a thief caught at his work, but is soon forced to find and steal the legendary Hamiathes’s Gift, a stone said to grant the receiver reign over the kingdom of Eddis, from the kingdom of Attolia.
As Gen narrates his travels, however, something seems a bit off. When I first read The Thief, I thought this was just poor writing or something similar, but really it is what makes the novel so brilliant. There is a twist ending. To avoid spoilers, I will not be more specific, but the combination of the first person narration and the ending is sheer genius.
Essentially, the writing is so deliberate and specific that everything that seemed odd in my first reading made sense in the second and had multiple layers of meaning in my third. It is this writing that earned The Thief a Newbery Honor Award, and what makes it one of my favorite books of all time.
Well, the writing is not the only amazing thing about The Thief. Gen is also a fantastic character (one of my favorite characters ever), the politics are complicated and the various levels of belief in the ancient Greek-inspired religion are fascinating. It also has three sequels: Queen’s Thief, King of Attolia and Conspiracy of Kings, all of which are arguably just as brilliant as the first.
The Thief is a gem of fiction. It is subtle when so many other children’s (and adult) novels are obvious, and it is complex when other novels are simplistic. I have read The Thief many times since I first discovered it a few years ago, and each time I discover new layers of meaning behind the carefully selected words. I would recommend reading it twice (at least), but it is worth reading even once to appreciate the genius of the twist ending. The Thief is definitely not a book to judge by its cover.
By EMMA REMY