The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner and the Newberry Honour Winner for 1997, is just so great. Our anti-hero, Gem, captivates the reader from the opening scene in his jail cell to the closing scene in his bedroom. I wanted him to succeed, yet I worried about his decisions, though I somehow came to believe his justifications for his actions. Knowing as you do how much I love good character, it should be little surprise that I loved (really really loved) The Thief.
The narrative does a masterful job letting the reader believe they have deduced secret ‘facts’ of Gem’s life – and this reader did deduce certain elements – but nevertheless codes some plot details with such subtlety that the climax remains suspenseful and surprising: we are taken in, not taken advantage of; we are rewarded for close reading, but still given the pleasure of a surprise twist.
More praise for plot: the adventure manages to contain itself. Where other YAF adventure stories (or adult adventure stories for that matter) fall prey to endless delays, meandering side-journeys, and excruciating details of campfires, trail food, and horses, The Thief delivers enough detail to convince and captivate, but arrives at the destination by such a direct route as to leave no question that it really is the destination that holds the magic and adventure, and not the journey.
The interweaving of Greek-cum-novel-civilization mythology and the struggle of our (darling) Gem to make sense of the apparent power of the Gods in everyday life is careful, measured and thought-provoking: what, the novel asks, do we owe to destiny and what do we owe to our own wits?
It’s really just so good. And something like 120 pages. I. tells me that there are two other books in the series, but this one ends with a decisive conclusion, something I admire and appreciate, as this is a complete work in its own right, and not simply a set-up for later books and other purchases. I’ll likely read the other two books because I loved this one so much, but I may save them, as they really are “Gems.”