The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner
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Feb. 11th, 2017 | 01:22 pm
music: blessid union of souls - i believe love will find a way
posted by: checkers65477 in sounis
Originally posted by sounistumblr at The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner
Kalinara: So it was my turn to pick the book again, and I decided to step away from Star Wars for a bit. I did however keep things in the Young Adult field by choosing The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.
The Thief is one of those books that is very hard to review, because it’s very easy to say too much about this very simple story. Fortunately, we have a cut tag.
Okay, so the Thief is a pretty basic story about Gen, a the titular thief of course, who has been recruited out of the king’s dungeon (he stole the King’s seal and was caught bragging about it) for a very important quest.
You see, the King of Sounis (Gen’s not-so-amiable host) is looking to marry the Queen of a neighboring kingdom, Eddis. Eddis is a mountain kingdom that separates Sounis from the enemy nation of Attolia. If Sounis marries Eddis, then he’ll have a clear path to attack Attolia.
Ragnell: Worth pointing out, Sounis is a dick.
K: Eddis however will have none of Sounis’s advances. So the Magus in service of the King has hatched a plan. In Eddis lore, there is a mythical stone, called Hamathes’s Gift, which is supposed to grant immortality and the rightful rule of Eddis to whoever holds it. The catch is that the stone’s power doesn’t work if it’s stolen. It must be given to its bearer for the power to work. But the loophole is that the stone can be stolen, and then given to someone else. The person who steals the stone and becomes kingmaker is known as the “King’s Thief”. This stone was lost many years ago, so now the throne passes through basic heredity like any other kingdom.
R: Told you, he’s a dick.
K: The Magus believes he has discovered the location of the stone and intends to use Gen to help him steal it so it can be given to Sounis. Sounis will then use the stone and its symbolic power to force Eddis to marry him and seize her kingdom that way.
The story is, at first glance, a very straightforward and entertaining quest story. Gen is our narrator and he is both charming and obnoxious. He travels with the Magus, the guard Pol, and two students, Ambiades and Sophos.
But it’s not quite that simple, Gen is a thief. He was in the King’s dungeon, having been caught bragging after stealing the King’s seal. Gen told us all of this early on. What he did not tell us is that he is Eddisian. And not just any thief. He is the Queen’s Thief. A role that has, like the role of King/Queen, become hereditary since the loss of the stone.
The amazing thing about the reveal is that it’s so seamless. Gen is our narrator, and his account is so frank, deft and thorough that it seems impossible for something that big to have escaped our notice.
R: It was a good reveal, but it struck me as kind of a cheat. It’s very sudden and she didn’t really give all that many hints that the narrator was hiding something.
K: I actually disagree with you there. It’s true that on a first read, there is very little indication that Gen is hiding something, but there is a lot to unpack on a second read. A lot of things that seem very abrupt are actually seeded from the very first chapter. But you have to know what you’re looking at.
The main thing is Gen is not actually intentionally deceiving the reader. As the end shows us, the story is his account as written to his cousin Eddis. He doesn’t mention being the Thief of Eddis because she already knows who he is. It’s not a matter of misdirection as much as it is a matter of interpretation. But from the reader’s perception, it completely changes everything, not just the chapters going forward, but all of the previous chapters as well.
Everything he says has a different nuance and meaning when you actually know the truth. For example, there is a scene when he is talking to the younger student, Sophos, and corrects his assumption about Gen’s family by stating that his sisters are happily married and his brothers are a watchmaker and a soldier. When I’d first read it, I’d assumed that Gen came from a middle class family but had instead chosen a life of crime. Once we know the truth, well, these well-married women, watchmaker, and soldier, also happen to be satellite members of the Eddisian royal family.
It’s not just bigger things like that though. Even little details have the same kind of dual perception. One example that springs to mind early on in the story is when the Magus, annoyed with Gen, demands that he stop chewing with his mouth open. Gen does so, which was difficult, as he had been chewing with his mouth open “assiduously” since he’d left the prison. The word means “with great care and deliberation”, and I had figured that meant that Gen was being deliberately obnoxious. But on reread, it’s clearer that what Gen meant was actually the “great care” part. Gen is a royal cousin of the Queen of Eddis trying to convince the Magus that he is peasant boy with more ability and ego than sense. He was carefully sticking to his masquerade.
I think this story says some really interesting things about perception and assumption. I am a person who often figures out twists before they are revealed, or at least, I often pick up on something not quite right, even if I don’t figure it out in its entirety. But I didn’t see this one.
R; Yeah. What struck me were the family details. From the description of the mother I was expecting them to get to Eddis and learn that he’s actually next in line for the position or something. So it was in line with everything, but still a major surprise when you find out he’s been in the position for a while and was actually the person the magus brought up earlier in the book.
K: And I think it’s because I went in assuming I knew what the story was. I read the first chapter went “okay, kid in jail, was skilled but sloppy and arrogant, got caught by his own ego” and figured okay, this is going to be a coming of age type quest story where the kid learns humility and wisdom. So whenever Gen said something about his life and his family and his backstory, I filtered it through that context. I thought Gen’s account was complete, because I was filling in the holes with my own assumptions. Just like the Magus.
Gen isn’t the only one concealing important facts on this mission though. Which makes it even more fun. Sophos is, in fact, the very disappointing heir to the throne of Sounis (nephew of the current King), who had been sent to study with the Magus because he was otherwise so hopeless. Pol is no mere bodyguard, but the Captain of a royal guard. While Ambiades is a traitor and spy. No one is exactly what they seem.
R: Ehh.. Ambiades you could see coming. He’s bitter, cruel, and acting strangely and is from an aristocratic line that lost their fortune. It was pretty clear he stole the food and honestly, I thought he’d taken the Gift too. Sophos was a surprise, though. Sounis is not only a dick, he’s kind of an idiot to put BOTH the living heir and the chance of a future heir in this basket.
K: Another part of the story that I find very interesting is the way they incorporate the myths and legends. Especially in terms of the Magus, who isn’t that bad a guy despite his mission. (He truly believes that uniting Sounis and Eddis would be the best thing for both countries.) The Magus starts from an idea that preserved records are better than the word of mouth tellings of the people who believe it, because of the way people change the story. He argues that the people of Eddis use the wrong, old pronunciation for their country when the rest of the civilized world has “moved on”. He is an academic in the driest sense of the word, but he seems to start getting an appreciation for how myth/religion and language are as much about people as they are historical record.
I think this growing appreciation for the human side of things is what helps him deal with his eventual defeat with some grace.
R: Yeah, and of the unlikeable at the beginning characters the magus is actually the one who turns out the best once you get to know him. I’m glad he made it through safely. I was more glad, though, that Ambiades didn’t. I really hated that kid.
K: Probably the last character worth noting is the Queen of Attolia. At this point, she’s more of a concept than a character. We know she’s beautiful, cruel, and that Sounis apparently fears her enough to allow the Magus to embark on a crazy artifact-hunting quest with his heir. But so far, she hasn’t even had as much development as Sounis himself. Though, given that the next book in the series is called “The Queen of Attolia”, that’s probably due to change.