The Bookshelf, by Rebekah Hall.
Gen can steal anything, or so he says. Of all the claims made by self-confident fools, in this case a common thief off the streets of Sounis, this one seems the most empty-handed; until the day Gen decides to prove it. He was quite serious when said anything, and he aims for nothing less than the king’s seal, which he steals right out from under the nose of the king’s right-hand man, the Magus.
Naturally, the first thing Gen does is gloat about his achievement in every wine-shop in the city, and it’s only a matter of hours before the Royal Guard apprehends him and locks him away in the dungeons. Luck is still on Gen’s side, though. Months after Gen’s capture, the Magus finds the survival of his career hanging on whether or not he can “steal” a stone known as Hamiathes’s Gift from a temple of the gods. The Magus is a scholar, he does not steal things; but, fortunately, he knows someone in prison who does.
While the Magus finally believes that he has everything under control, though, the arrangement makes his young apprentice, Sophos, uneasy; because Sophos insists upon asking the one question the Magus thinks is ridiculous. If Gen was really clever enough to steal the king’s seal unseen and unaided, then wouldn’t he at least have the common sense to keep quiet afterword?
Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief was first published in 1996, and since then she’s written three more books, plus an expected fourth, and all five together make up The Queen’s Thief series. Despite its age, the series has never quite received the attention it deserves. There could several reasons for this, not least of them being the very small amount of advertising the author does for her books; but probably one of the biggest was the fact that there never was much of a market for books based off of Greek mythology. That is, there wasn’t until the recent success of the Percy Jackson books; but whereas Percy Jackson does little more than caricaturize the myths, The Queen’s Thief series works more toward capturing the spirit of them.
There are many ways to describe just how the series does this, but the easiest would simply be to say that it all comes down to Gen. Gen is the perfect combination of every Greek hero whose name was ever mentioned in a story. He has in his character Achilles’ temper and pride, Hercules’ confident audacity, and, most importantly, Odysseus’ “resourcefulness”. The reason that last is so important is because the Greeks loved ingenuity. More often than not, the heroic stories of the ancient Greeks depended not on whether the hero had the goodness and strength to overcome evil, but whether he had the cunning to outwit his opponent. One need only watch Gen at his best to see just how well Turner understood that idea.
Unlike a lot of heroes, though, Gen is thoroughly mortal. There are gods in Gen’s world, and they are powerful beings not to be fooled with. However, they’re not malevolent, but still their very existence puts Gen on edge. He’s not sure whether he can trust them, even though they’ve never given him a reason to distrust them; they’re outside of the world he can so easily manipulate and navigate. What’s worse, Gen was actually named after a god, Eugenides, the god of thieves himself.
It’s here that Turner begins to stray from the original mythology, and for the better; it’s certainly common knowledge that the Greek gods committed evil acts toward humans, and frequently did so. The gods never play into any of the plotlines, but their existence follows Gen from book to book, and reveals one of the most interesting facets of his character as he changes.
Yet, what’s even more fascinating is how the series depicts Gen’s relationship with his namesake, which is tinged with Christian theology. Once again, it’s not much, because of the small role that the gods play, but it’s still there as Gen tries to cope with the idea of Eugenides as his patron. Can he really trust Eugenides to look out for his well-being? What if Eugenides grew bored of him and during Gen’s more risky antics, like jumping from rooftop to rooftop, Eugenides simply let him fall to his death; or even worse, get caught? The day comes that Gen does get caught, and Eugenides allows it (facilitates it, in fact), and the result includes a good deal of suffering for him; but, in the end, it brings about a much greater maturing of character than Gen could have ever achieved on his own.
It should also be noted that, while Turner strays from the mythology, she doesn’t restrict herself to it, either. Greek mythology by itself misses a lot of its value unless it’s paired with ancient Greek history and literature, and the series brings together all three in one odd, but delightful smorgasbord of a fantasy story.
All the mythology, history, and literature is veiled in the books and given different names; so any reader concerned that they’re not going to be able to follow along because they’ve never heard of figures like Odysseus, Xerxes, or Oedipus need not worry about it. The elements in the stories are so well layered that anyone could read them and still get something out of it. That can only be said of a very small number of books written recently, and Megan Whalen Turner more than deserves the compliment.
Rebekah is a senior in high school who loves reading, writing, or anything that contains a story and a puzzle. She runs the review blog “And a Sweet Sound it Made” – http://www.andasweetsound.blogspot.com/