Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

"Things are not what they seem in this story of wit, adventure, and philosophy. Gen, an accomplished thief incarcerated for stealing the king's seal, is dragged from his cell by the king's magus, who is on a quest. The prize is Hamiathes's Gift, said to be a creation of the gods that confers the right of rule on the wearer. During the quest, the magus and Gen take turns telling the youngest member of their party myths about the Eddisian god of thieves"
-amazon.com product page

So you know how in cartoons when a character needs to portray an air of innocence they slump their shoulders, shove their hands in their pockets and whistle?

Megan Whalen Turner’s ‘The Thief’ is pretty much the literary equivalent of the innocent whistle. It devotes great effort to convincing the reader that Gen, the titular thief, isn’t up to anything, and in the end is about as convincing as whistling cartoon character.

Any magician will tell you if you don’t want the audience to see what you’re doing, then give them something else to look at. Turner doesn’t do this, she just hides away Gen’s true plans and motivations which, considering this is a first person novel, doesn’t leave the reader with much to see inside of Gen’s head. He complains of being tired and hungry a lot, and he spends a lot of time describing the other characters and their interactions, but… that’s about it.

He makes no effort to escape or to change his situation, simply passively going along with what his captors tell him to do and passivity is rarely an interesting trait in a protagonist. And yes people who have finished the book are going to say, ‘but, but, Megan! (er, Megan as in me, not Megan as in the author...) Gen had a plan all along!’ To which I reply that that’s no excuse. Look at the Artemis Fowl books, for example. They’re aimed at a younger audience than this one, so that removes any silly age argument, and one of the coolest things about them is that the reader rarely knows what Artemis is really up to until the final reveal. Half the time the reader doesn’t even know he is up to something. Artemis Fowl is a world champion poker player next to The Thief's innocent whistle.

Another thing I like about the Artemis Fowl books (I’m a big fan, can you tell) is that Artemis is a genius and we actually get to see evidence of him being all smug and geniusy. Gen is supposedly a super awesome thief, and yet we see no evidence of his skills. Yes we see the results, occasionally throughout the book Gen will mention an object he apparently stole a few pages earlier but we never actually see him steal anything. Imagine if every time a character got into a tight spot the writer simply skipped the part where they got out of it? Or if Sherlock Holmes just announced that he knew who the bad guy was without ever explaining how he figured it out? How are we, the reader, supposed to believe in Gen’s skills when we never actually see them in play?

So not only are most of Gen’s thoughts hidden away, we never see any evidence of his supposedly awesome skills. Couple this with the fact that for much of the book nothing happens, and you can see why a reader might get a little frustrated. There’s only so many campfire stories and descriptions of olive trees that a girl can take!

Now you might think from all this negativity that I didn’t much like this book at all. But honestly, despite its flaws, it was a pretty fun and easy read. There were some pretty clever turns of phrase scattered throughout, and once things actually started to happen (nearly three quarters of the way in, mind you) things picked up dramatically.

I might eventually pick up the next books in this series, but I’m not in any huge hurry to do so.

How did I come into possession of this book? I bought it

No comments:

Post a Comment