“A little danger adds spice to life.” — Megan Whalen Turner,
“The Thief” Review
This post may contain spoilers.
I picked up this book during one of my “Let’s buy everything!” moods at Barnes and Noble with Rachel. The title and cover intrigued me. Fantasies with thieves and journeys are one of my book weaknesses.
The story itself stars Gen, a thief that has found himself in the king’s prison for boasting about stealing the king’s seal from the king’s magus. While his boasts may have landed him into trouble, the magus decides that Gen — who claims he can steal anything — will be the perfect thief to bring on a quest to find an object straight out of a legend. The object in question is a stone that indicates who is the rightful ruler of one of the land’s kingdoms.
Told in first-person, we follow Gen along on the quest. Being a thief, he’s not held in high regard among the party of travelers and is constantly monitored by the magus, the group’s soldier Pol, and the magus’s two apprentices, Ambiades and Sophos. For the most part, Gen seems fairly laid-back, figuring that attempting to steal a legendary object is better than being in jail. His narration voice does have a few quips and sarcastic remarks, but for the most part, he seems to be an observer and was easy enough to keep up with as one reads the story.
With that said, none of the characters really stood out in this story. The magus didn’t even have a name other than “the magus,” even if he was the one who orchestrated the entire quest and was, arguably, the second most important character after Gen. Pol was the competent soldier, there at Sophos’s father’s request to keep an eye on his son, and played the strong and silent type a little too well to really keep me invested in his well-being.
Sophos, on his part, was curious and easy-going, eager to learn and seemed to be a better apprentice to the magus than Ambiades. Ambiades resembled a spoiled child more often than not, despite being the elder of the two, but he seemed to get a little more development near the middle of the book… until he stayed behind from the rest of the party at one point, nearly erasing him from the rest of the story. While I had it in my head the apprentices were young — perhaps older teens, getting close to their twenties if not just reaching them — there was a comment regarding a certain someone who Sophos may marry, completely throwing off my mental picture of the character and making me question whether or not their actions throughout the story was justified for their ages or not.
The entire first half of the novel was the journey to the temple that supposedly held the legendary object. History lessons about the lands and the legend itself — with scenes of the group eating, washing, or camping peppered in — was all I read for that first half, feeling as if I were a student along with Ambiades and Sophos. Instead of being interested like Sophos, I was bored along with Ambiades.
The book’s mythology and history is actually interesting, and definite kudos to the author for creating this beautiful world for her characters to live in. However, the first half of the book read more like info-dumping than an actual story. The history was necessary for the legendary object, yes, but I feel as if the author could have done a much better job passing along the needed information. Stories around the campfire are fine, but give me more of a journey rather than a textbook while they head toward the temple.
Once the story hit the midway point, I became much more invested in it. We had reached the temple, Gen had ventured through it, the object was found, then lost. Danger found the party and motives were revealed, as well as Gen’s true plan regarding the quest. He was a bit of an unreliable narrator throughout the story, and reading how everything fell into place almost made up for the textbook half of the story.
To me, The Thief was okay. While the myths and history of the lands were interesting, I didn’t like the way it was all presented, and the characters weren’t as intriguing as I had hoped they would be. Still, I will not rule out the rest of the series. Perhaps I’ll find them in the library when I’m ready to try again to dive into the author’s world.
“The Thief” gets a 3 out of 5 stars.
Have you ever read a story from the villain’s point of view? Ever tried to write one? What about a narrator that doesn’t tell the reader all of the truth? The narrator may not lie, not really, but they may not tell the reader everything that they know…
An unreliable narrator is just as it sounds — a narrator that the reader cannot rely on to tell all that they know. Narrators, either in first or third person, typically are the reader’s eyes into the world of the story. We see what the narrator sees, hear what they hear, remember what they remember. The narrator’s emotions are, generally, what the reader is supposed to feel while following the narrator through the story. This empathy is what keeps a reader invested in the book.
It’s difficult for a reader to empathize with the narrator if the narrator is unreliable.
Figuring out near the end of the book that the narrator suddenly knows something the reader did not or drops the act that the narrator had been performing throughout the novel can be a risky move. On one hand, having an unreliable narrator can keep the reader in suspense — to suddenly have the narrator reveal a grander plan than the reader originally knew can keep the thrill of the story going…
Or it can jolt the reader out of the story, citing that the narrator has gone out of character. It can also annoy the reader to have this narrator that we’ve been emotionally invested in suddenly change. Any empathy the reader had gets thrown out the window.
Then, of course, there are unreliable narrators that are played straight — a character that may have split personality disorder, that may have a troublesome memory, that may be known as a chronic liar. The readers ideally keep reading to see what is going to happen to the narrator, to figure out for themselves what is the truth or not.
Have you read any stories with unreliable narrators? Any really well-written ones, or did the narrator’s unreliability turn you off from the story?
Back in April, I did a more general Break the Tropes post. This time around, I wanted to focus more on tropes that are found more in fantasy novels. Feel free to comment what you’d add to the list!
- Instead of the Legendary Artifact being found safe and sound, have it be a dud.
- You know that magical sword that will cleave through the darkness? Have it break on the first swing.
- Have the wise old wizard be a laid-back young necromancer.
- Heck, instead of having the necromancer be an intimidating character shrouded in darkness and death, have them use their powers to bring back to life their old pets.
- Seriously, have the “Cat Lady” of the story be the “Cat Necromancer.”
- Mistake who is actually the Long Lost Heir to the Throne.
- Make the Chosen One actually be the antagonist of the story.
- Make the elves buff instead of lean and limber. If they’re still in their natural forest habitat wielding bows, they should be some of the most muscular characters in the book. Climbing trees and using bows takes much more strength than swinging around a sword!
- Imagine underground elves.
- Imagine forest-dwelling or even seafaring dwarves. Get the bearded guys out of their caves and mines to see how they react.
- Have the kingdom of the Dark Lord or Bad Guy be the place with the happiest citizens or the area of the land that gets the most sunlight.
- Instead of having mages use elemental magic compatible with their personalities, give them magic that goes against their nature. Have the calmest mage use Fire abilities, making it difficult to stir up enough passion to start a flame, or the energetic Earth mage having a hard time settling down enough to persuade a plant to grow.
- Those stories about characters being the Descendant One of a powerful, magical being that lived eons ago? Yeah, genetically speaking, there’s probably a good couple of dozen Descendant Ones now.
- Let a princess rescue the prince.
- Let a princess rescue the princess.
- Or a prince rescue a prince.
- Have the dragon rescue whoever is trapped in the tower.
- Have the dragon be whoever was supposedly trapped in the tower after learning magic from the witch that had trapped them in the first place.
While he had no doubt been raised prim and proper, the foot soldier before her looked ready to wet himself. Clad in the scarlet and goldenrod livery of the Harding family, the young man was shaking so much the helmet he held rattled. He was either extremely desperate or extremely stupid to seek her out and leave his skull unprotected.
“Did you say your name?” Kora asked, her sudden question making him jump.
“Dax Cabot,” he answered immediately.
A common enough name.
“How long have you been with them?” She gestured vaguely to the uniform.
“Since I was about seven,” he said. After a beat, he added, “Ma’am.”
“Not what I asked.”
“About ten years.”
“Now why,” she leaned closer to him, speaking slowly, “would you toss all those years of loyalty to one of the houses closest to the king to come to the Blight?”
Dax straightened his spine, but his Adam’s apple bobbed with a hard swallow. “I heard the rumors of a rebellion against the crown—”
He faltered, but pressed on. “It’s not the usual rabble of talk from those here in the Blight. The rumors are coursing from the noble houses, Harding included.”
Kora raised a thin eyebrow. “Again, so?” I have no interest in noble arguments. Why not tell the king’s advisors of this?”
Dax paled even more, had it been possible. “I don’t know how deep the rebellion has gotten,” he said. “And I… I thought you’d stop it. You’ve the royal family in your pockets, don’t you?”
“Curious.” Kora tilted her head to the side, her gaze narrowing. “Why would a little foot soldier like yourself figure that?”
“Rumors,” was the weak reply.
Silence stretched between the two, Kora staring at Dax and Dax looking anywhere but at her.
Eventually Kora said, “If I was to get involved in this squabble, what would be my reward?”
“The royal family stays neatly in your pocket?” Dax winced at his own answer and looked more frightened than relieved when Kora laughed.
“Keep honing your wit,” Kora said. “Your tongue may be able to save you just as much as your sword. Brogan.” One of her guards – a squinty-eyed man with arm muscles as thick as his neck – stepped forward. In one movement, Brogan put a sack over Dax’s head and pinned the soldier’s arms to his side. “Mr. Cabot, should you wish to really pursue our help in this matter, you’d do well to bring leverage to persuade me to the cause. The Blight works with tangible rewards and goods, not pretty words and promises. Brogan will kindly escort you back to the streets.”
Dax began to stutter a protest, but he fell silent when Brogan nearly lifted him off his feet and out of the office. Graham came in almost immediately after, his gaze lingering on the retreating pair.
“His ass doesn’t look broken,” Graham commented lightly. “Did you go straight for the face? That what the sack was for?”
Kora shook her head, her fingers steepled in front of her face as she wondered how the supposed foot soldier found his way around the Blight enough to reach an audience with her. “He’s still in one piece.”
“Feeling generous today, are we?”
“I would hardly think it appropriate,” Kora drawled, “to maim the kingdom’s prince.”