Writer: Megan Whalen Turner
I think I first heard about Megan Whalen Turner last year. I want to say it was during the Hugo nomination debacle, and bloggers were throwing out the names of women writers and their books, asking other bloggers who agreed (or partially agreed) with said Hugo noms if they honestly thought the nominations were better than these books written by women.
Or something. My brain's rather fuzzy about the whole thing now. but I do know Turner's name came up quite often, and I kept hearing how good her Attolia books were. Then I found out it was a trilogy, that The Thief was the first book, and oh yeah, they were YA.
At that time, I think I was still stubborn about shopping and reading the YA section. I put the book on my wishlist anyway, and by time I got over my YA-reading-block, I never could find it in stores.
Turns out, I just didn't know where to look. I found this one in Barnes & Noble when I finally ventured into the CHILDREN'S section. I'd been looking in YA, which--at least, in the stores I shop at--is OUTSIDE the official CHILDREN'S section.
Whatever that means. The point is, I finally found the book, and made a point to read it as soon as I could.
The premise: Gen is a thief who boasts he can steal anything, which lands him in the King's prison. He's stuck there until the King's magus has use of Gen's skills--to steal something that might not even exist, a stone blessed by the gods with the gift of immortality, and the right to rule a kingdom. To his captors, Gen's only a tool, but he's got plans of his own.
I have to admit, this book surprised me a bit. Right from the start, this book reminded me of a strange hybrid between Maria Snyder's Poison Study and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. In fact, Gen reminds me very much of how a young Locke Lamora might sound, had we gotten more of Locke's childhood, and in the first person POV.
And for the first time in a while, I finally recognize an unreliable narrator. Through-out the book, even though I was absorbed in Gen's story and what was happening, something kept prickling me. Gen didn't exactly tell us the whole truth, like when Hamiathes's Gift turned up missing. Maybe it's just my inner rules of plot, but I knew Gen had to have stolen it, and I was a bit miffed when he wasn't just a little bit more forthcoming with the reader in terms of the narrative. But by the end, when we learn that Gen is ACTUALLY Eddis's Queen's Thief, I was floored. I can't BELIEVE I fell for it, even though the clues were there all along. Certain word usages, like when he purposely puts up a fuss over a bath, that sort of thing. The reader knows all along that Gen is smarter than he appears, and we're too busy feeling sorry for him because practically everyone else treats him like crap that we don't realize he's actually HIDING something.
Well played. I wasn't even mad, nor did I feel manipulated, which is a neat trick. I did get a little confused when Turner recapped events that Gen had experienced, because I felt we should've gotten them first hand, but hey, that's me.
So, moving on: the world-building was really interesting. I liked how ancient Greece is essentially the basis for what Turner is using in this world. It gave the fantasy a fresh face, and the culture shone through with the names as well as the stories of creation and of the gods and goddesses. However, the setting itself was rather lacking. I wanted a map for starters, though I'll admit that by time I was halfway through the book, I had a literal map in my head of where each country was in relation to each other, so that's a neat trick. Yet, especially at the start (at the start, it was a pitch black prison, but bear with me), I felt like setting details were lacking. I think part of the difference is that between a third person narrative and a first person narrative, because really getting into the meat of that kind of setting detail wouldn't feel very natural for someone who's already familiar with it, so you have to rely on details that matter to the narrator. I wonder, though, if some of the difference is also that between YA and adult fantasy. Given the target audience of YA fantasy, keeping readers' attentions is a must, and if you do get into gobs and gobs of setting detail (like Harry Potter), it should be rather awe-inspiring and magical to mask the fact that the action of the story isn't moving.
Anyway, the cast was good. Sophos, of course, was wonderfully sympathetic, and Ambiades was a solid antagonist, if not an obvious one. I liked that the source of the conflict seemed to focus on Ambiades's sense of heirarchy, but in the end, really focused on betrayal. The magus, who's never named, if I recall, seemed to waver between scorn and fatherly care in regards to Gen, and the lack of name kept me at a distance, but no matter. Pol was Pol, of course.
For a book that didn't have a lot of ACTION, there remained a steady bit of tension through-out the pages. Gen's voice kept the pages turning, as did the tension between Gen and those he traveled with. Getting tidbits of world-building was also a delight. In fact, when actual ACTION showed up at the end, I was rather dumbly surprised. I didn't think it belonged in this kind of book! :) But in the end, everything fit together (sometimes a little clumsily), and it surprised me in the end.
Worth the Cash: those who enjoyed the childhood version of Locke Lamora in Scott Lynch's book should enjoy this. Gen's voice is solid, his attitude and arrogance fun, which really drives the book along when you consider how he interacts with those around him. It's a good read, and I'm looking forward to the other two books, though I don't know when I'll get a chance to get them. I'm looking forward to seeing what Turner does with Gen's character, as well as her setting, a fantasy-world based on ancient Greece. Very fun stuff, and it reads fast.
Book: Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost
Graphic Novel: The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank by Garth Ennis