This book has been sitting on my shelf for several (we won't go into how many exactly) years. I even *gasp* had both sequels sitting on the shelf next to it. And in the interest of full disclosure, I even started The Thief a couple of years ago, got 25 pages in, and stopped. For reasons I no longer recall. The fault, whatever it was, was clearly mine because this book is the beginning of something truly special. I completely understand why it won the Newbery Honor and am very glad it did.
Gen is a thief, and a rather boastful one at that. Claiming he can steal anything, Gen succeeds in making off with the King of Sounis' seal only to brag about it to the wrong man and get himself thrown in the King's prison indefinitely. Along comes the Magus, the King's senior advisor, who pulls Gen out of prison and sets him an impossible task. Journey to a hidden temple, steal a mythical artifact, and turn it over to the King. On pain of death. A long, slow, excruciating death. Not being a fool, Gen agrees to the terms and sets out on the journey accompanied by the Magus, his two apprentices Sophos and Ambiades (or as Gen likes to refer to them: Useless the Younger and Useless the Elder), and the inimical soldier Pol.
And thus begins the adventure. Set in a world that is not quite ancient Greece but looks very much like it, it is a story that builds up slowly, but surely and I won't say that I didn't wonder once or twice if it was ever going to get where it was going. But hindsight is 20/20 and I can see now just how methodically and craftily Megan Whalen Turner leads you down the primrose path into thinking it's a simple story about a simple thief. It's remarkable, really. Because the whole thing does build up into one humdinger of a climax and by the time you realize what's happened there's nothing left to do but doff you hat to the irrepressible Gen for he completely wins the day and the reader as well. Nothing in this story is what it seems and that is possibly Turner's greatest strength. She (and her Thief) have the ability to take on any guise and pull off any ruse in order to achieve the desired result. In this case, it was my unadulterated adoration and I gave it up without even a hint of regret. The Thief, for the two of you who haven't yet fallen victim to this wonderful series, is the first of three books in the Queen's Thief series. Word is Ms. Turner is at work on the fourth as we speak. Thank the gods.