This book came with high praise, not as much by the reader, but the author community.
I considered it a good sign that Lois McMaster Bujold herself recommended the YA fantasy/mythic fiction adventure on Goodreads. It couldn't hurt, I thought, to give the book a whirl. It's a surprisingly thin novel, 280 pages, well, at least compared to the boulder-type tomes we the readers come to expect of the fantasy genre. The Thief is the first volume in the "The Queen's Thief" series, and it consists of four successive books. According to author Megan Whalen Turner, there are one or two more novels in the works to complete the cycle.
'The magus stopped. "This is it," he said.
"This is what?" I asked.
"This is where you earn your reputation."
I looked around at the empty rock and river
and the sandy soil under my feet. As far as I could
see, there was nothing to steal, nothing at all.'
Professional thief Gen serves a sentence in the king's prison for bragging about his prior "deeds" and abilities to the wrong people, when the magus, the king's adviser, sends for him. The magus needs the thief's skill to steal a legendary item of immense value - hidden somewhere in a foreign land.
That is basically all I can tell you without spoiling anything about the story. Of course that is not all there is; prepare yourself for twists and surprises along the way as the party sets out on the journey to find the artifact - and the author manages to keep up the suspense until the end.
That is one of the great things about the story, the way it kept surprising me. Not to be mean about fantasy or anything, but it isn't a genre typically known for its great originality or commonly use of the classic arc of suspense. All throughout the novel, much of the tension is created through the clever use of heist and time famine elements.
One part stood out to me as an example for the author's command of language and skill: when Gen, pressed for time, has to go to an underwater temple riddled with traps and tripwires, I found myself holding my breath. It felt like reading an episode of Tomb Raider against a clock ticking in the back of my head.
Also the mythological ideas and folklore elements are quite unique and stunning and provide the layer to interlink both worlds. It's one of the best creation and mythology back stories I have read in ages. Thinking about it, it even gives Lois' Curse of Chalion five-gods world a close run in terms of its theological appeal.
The execution lacks in some other parts of the story, there is an element of repetition in some of the chase scenes, pacing issues, plus at times, the main character's boasting seems a bit over the top, especially in the beginning. Unfortunately it does stand in the way of initially getting emotionally invested in Gen's fate. It seems however, that after the first few chapters, the author did find the right "frequency" to convey the protagonist's strong voice. This aspect not working would have been a major issue, since the first-person narrative is substantial for the story.
But all in all, with the exception of a few flaws and some missing finishing touches here and there, this is a rather successful debut novel. It left me no choice but to immediately pick up the sequels: I think I found them a good home, snugly sandwiched between the Georges.