The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Is it possible for a book to have too much realism? To try too hard to emulate real life? In The Thief, Miss Turner went to great lengths to paint a completely detailed picture of all the minutia in her plot. Unfortunately, this extreme focus on the small things often bogged it all down to a nearly unbearable point and I thought it tried too hard to be overly accurate about the character's interactions. Oddly enough though, I still liked the book! Especially after reading the bit at the very end which described how Miss Turner's writing was influenced by her travels in Greece and other exotic locales. Learning a little about her life made me better appreciate her effort and lent some credibility to her words.

In The Thief, our 'criminal turned sort-of-hero' Gen starts off in a pretty rotten place - the King's Prison. Thankfully, he is abruptly freed one night by the Magus, a top-level advisor who is number two to the King. The Magus needs Gen's expert thieving skills to steal an unnamed object from a mystery location. Of course, the freed prisoner has no choice in the matter, so he joins a group consisting of the Magus, two nobles in training, and an expert soldier. Together, the five journey across the land to seek a mystic stone which according to legend, was once a gift from the Gods.

For me, this kind of set-up usually means I'm going to really dig the book. But as I mentioned before, the detail was just a little too excruciating at times. For instance, Gen complains about being hungry a lot. A LOT. This seemed frustratingly unnecessary most of the time. Also, the Magus and the nobles in training often aggressively bicker about unimportant things. This annoyed me. People in real life get on each other's backs, that's a fact. I just don't think a fantasy book has to be quite so depressingly real.

And there's plenty of very specific detail about their travels; the path they're on, the plan, the surrounding landscape, where they are headed, etc. I realize these things happen in life and this kind of info can be useful to the plot, but maybe not over and over and over. Did I mention that everyone bickers about everything? A LOT. The sensory info Miss Turner provided on the scenery was actually really good. I didn’t dislike that as much. And it was even better after I read about her travels in Europe and how specific bits of the story were influenced by things she saw.

Many times while reading, I felt as if the author must have been on a journey such as the one her characters were on and that she kept very copious notes about it. We readers certainly feel like we are right there in the group. Which should be great! But in this case, the group was kind of awful at times. Again, I realize this is just like life - people aren't always perfect heroes and they do have their flaws. But in a book, I'd rather the flaws be a little more minimal and the realism be a little less...realistic.

What about the good? There is a neat structure of Gods and Goddesses in the story and I really enjoyed how this was integrated into the plot. Miss Turner built a system of deities which is based on Roman and Greek Gods and even shares some of their names but she introduces new beings as well and really makes her system unique. What's cool about this is the travelling group sometimes told detailed stories about the Gods while sitting around their campfire at night. This is when readers learn the most about the deities and how they impact the group's quest. I always found these passages creative, interesting and very well-done. And best of all, the characters weren't whining and arguing at these times so that was a relief.

The book is also fun and suspenseful when Gen finally steals the item. Plenty of intriguing, imaginative writing in those parts. The plot then picks up from that point on and is much less tedious. At last, everything wraps up with a really nice twist in the end that I honestly didn't see coming until it was right around the corner.

Miss Turner is clearly a talented writer and overall, she's created an intriguing world for her book The Thief and given us a (mostly) exciting story to follow. I just wish she would have dialed back the small details and day-to-day nitpicking from her characters. As I mentioned at the top, even though I've seemingly had mostly bad things to say about this one, I did still like it and do plan to read the rest of the series. There are four total books, as of now, and hopefully in the newer ones Miss Turner has fine-tuned things and has streamlined some more action to us. Because those are the bits of The Thief that I liked and I do look forward to hearing more about Gen's exploits. The Amazon reviews of the newer books look excellent so I trust this series will turn out to be top notch.

Now, for whom do I recommend this series? Not sure yet, I'll need to read some more to determine that answer. So stay tuned!

Happy Reading!