The Queen’s Thief: Book I
By popular demand (usually from Melita), I’ve finally got round to Megan Whalen Turner! I understand from Kerstin that the Queen’s Thief books are loved by Dunnetteers, among many other readers, for their twisting plots and intrigue, and so I’d really been looking forward to them. At the end of this first novel, however, I can’t help wondering when that promised court intrigue is going to get underway. The Thief is an enjoyable young-adult quest novel, throwing together the traditional bunch of ill-assorted companions in search of an ancient relic, but I don’t feel it’s hugely out of the ordinary. I’m not about to give up, though, and am sure things will warm up later in the series.
We first meet our hero Gen in prison, where he’s contemplating the irony of the world’s greatest thief being unable to free himself from chains. When the prospect of freedom does arise, however, it does so from the most unexpected quarter: the King of Sounis’s chief adviser, ‘the magus’. It just so happens that the King has ambitions to expand his territory by marriage with the queen of neighbouring Eddis. In order to force her hand, he wants to be in possession of Hamiathes’ Gift, a stone from ancient legend, which is believed to confer the kingship of Eddis on the bearer. Of course, the Gift has been lost for centuries; but the magus thinks he’s figured out where it is. And so Gen, grumbling, intransigent and permanently hungry, finds himself trotting off on horseback (he hates horses) with the magus, the soldier Pol and two inept assistants, Sophos and Ambiades.
The story functions as an introduction to Turner’s world, plotting outlines which will (I suppose) be filled in by later books. Sounis borders the sea, while Eddis lies to the east, up in the valleys of the Hephestial Mountains. Further east still, and down to the south, is Sounis’s ancient enemy Attolia. We have at least a glimpse of all three kingdoms in this book, setting the stage for Gen’s future adventures. As the travellers break their journey, they also tell stories which reveal the world’s myths and its pantheon of gods, from the thief-god Eugenides (after whom Gen is named) to the goddess of Fate, Moira. But their enforced companionship doesn’t extend to sharing their own stories and, for all the magus’s brilliance, he doesn’t realise that his thieving prisoner has an agenda of his own. Nor do any of them realise that the gods are watching…
There was much I enjoyed about the book, which has a delightful light humour, but it feels like the work of an author still finding her feet. The world-building doesn’t yet feel entirely secure. For example, are we in our own world or not? The map included at the end of my edition shows something that looks like a skewed version of the Mediterranean and Aegean, and the names back this up. Attolia occupies the same place on the map that Anatolia would; while to the south there’s the empire of Mede, which matches the location of Persia (the Persians were also called Medes). Gen and his companions have names taken from or based on Greek. So far so clear. But Turner picks and chooses from Greek history and myth, keeping some figures – Moira, Archimedes – but transforming Hephestus into Hephestia and ignoring the rest of the Olympians. This kind of cherry-picking annoys me slightly: using our own world in fantasy is all well and good, but one should either refer to it openly (the presence of Classical authors in Prince of Thorns, for example), or create an entirely alternate world (for example, The Lions of Al-Rassan). So I remain to be convinced about the integrity of Gen’s world.
At times, I also didn’t completely buy into the characters. The magus’s attitude to Gen is fairly inconsistent: threatening him with death one moment, and being a jolly good, caring chap the next. Fortunately, Gen himself is charming and, as we discover towards the end, fully as good a thief as he claims to be, for all that he spends most of the book lounging around eating. I suspect this is probably one of those books that grows on you with each reading, as you understand more of what’s going on between the lines. So don’t despair of me just yet. I’ll get my hands on The Queen of Attolia in due course and, with luck, the knotty politicking will start in earnest, and I’ll be as happy as a pig in a great deal of mud.
And if you’re disappointed that I don’t yet love this as much as you do? Remember that I didn’t initially think much of The Game of Kings when I read that either…
Queen’s Thief fans, take a look at this rather lovely fan-made trailer for ‘The Thief’, using footage from various other films and programmes. Very cleverly done.