Desert Isle Keeper
The Thief Series
I follow book recommendations to discover new authors and books on the Internet all the time. However, it is rare that a book recommendation leads me to a treasure so perfect that it leaves me breathless with awe and rather frightened at how easily I might have missed it. This is what happened with Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief and its sequels, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia. (My profound gratitude goes to Cara King at Risky Regencies.)
The books are set in three countries reminiscent of Greece, in a culture that combines archaic concepts with the advent of modern technology – think a mixture of Mycenae, Byzantium and a hint of Renaissance Italy. Coastal countries Sounis and Attolia, if not precisely at war, eye each other warily, and both try to gain a foothold in mountainous Eddis, on whose wood they depend for ship-building. At the same time, the powerful empire of Medea wants to annex the three smaller countries.
The first volume in the series, The Thief, begins with the first-person narrator, the thief Gen, stuck in the prison of the king of Sounis. He got there for boasting he could steal the king’s signet and for being caught after succeeding in doing so. The guards now taunt him with his failure to escape, but Gen is offered a way out: The king’s magus (a scholar, not a magician) requires his help in a secret expedition. Gen is not told what he is to do, but as the alternative is rotting in prison, he agrees to go on the trip. The magus and Gen are accompanied only by the magus’s two young apprentices and a single bodyguard.
I won’t divulge any more of the plot here, except to assure you it’s wonderfully intricate. Gen is an exceptional character. He is clever and sharp-tongued, a past master at the art of manipulation, and he loves acting the brat – whining, full of self-pity, pushing the limits. He behaves so badly that half of the time you want to shake him, and the rest of the time you wish you had his audaciousness (think Crawford of Lymond – The Lymond Chronicles – as an adolescent). The other characters start off two-dimensional, but as Gen develops a relationship with them and gets to know them better, they become fascinating in their own right. Interspersed in the narrative are tales of the ancient gods, which the magus and Gen tell the apprentices. They are beautifully written, and it is only at the end of the book that their true relevance is revealed.
The next book in the series, The Queen of Attolia, follows Gen’s further adventures. This novel is deeper and darker than the first, with a great deal of suffering and even more political maneuvering. At the same time, it contains an amazing, most unusual romance. A veteran romance reader, I did see it coming, but I marveled how Megan Whalen Turner would carry that off. Suffice it to say, she does, and excellently.
The Queen of Attolia and its sequel are told in the third person, so that other points-of-view than Gen’s are included. The third volume, The King of Attolia, is told mostly from the perspective of a young guardsman who strikes up a friendship of sorts with Gen. To give any more information here would be to enter into spoiler territory. In fact, I should warn you that many of the reviews out there concerning this series are laden with spoilers, so readers may wish to avoid these – or even the back-cover blurbs of the later volumes – until reading each volume. The surprises are truly worth it.</p.
These are among the books that are so exquisitely well-written that I found myself going back repeatedly to savor an especially apt description or a particularly brilliant exchange of words. The descriptions make the reader see the Mediterranean landscape and hurry one to the supermarket to buy some Greek cheese, bread and olives. Gen as a character is so multifaceted and so fabulous that he leaves you in awe again and again, especially if you like your heroes brilliant and flawed. The secondary characters are wonderful, too – you grow to understand and like them, even more so when they are difficult, flawed people. Two minor characters’ fates are left open at the ending of King of Attolia, and I devoutly hope that Megan Whalen Turner is employed in continuing their stories right now.
I can only recommend that you start with reading The Thief as soon as you can – you are in for a treat!. This is one of those perfect books (or, in this case, series) that make you understand once more what a true gift reading is.