Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner

    [I hereby promise that next week, I will review a book I didn't like, just so you won't doubt my critical abilities. But this is not next week. This is the week I give you "The Thief", the corporately-adored favorite of my husband and me.]

 "The Thief"was published in 1996, and was made a Newberry Honor book, an ALA Notable Book, and the ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

   Pol handed me the pry bar, and it was a comfort to have it in my hand, even though I could be sure that there was nothing living in the temple. You can't keep watchdogs someplace that's underwater all but a few nights of the year. Snakes, though, I thought. Maybe you could keep snakes.
   I waited another half an hour until the water flowing through the slits in the doorway had lessened its force. Then I stepped into the pool. Standing up to my ankles in water, I turned back to ask the magus, "Do you know if anyone has tried this before?"
   "I believe that several attempts have been made," he said.
   "No one came back."
   "From inside?"
   "No one who has been inside has returned; no member of any party where someone went inside has returned wither. I don't know how it might happen, but if you fail, we are all lost together."

  How's that for an excerpt?!

  One of the greatest frustrations of my life is that Megan Whalen Turner is such an incomparable craftsman that I must wait at least four years for any new book. But the wait is always worth it.

   I have read/experienced "The Thief" three times now, and I love it more and more. The first time, I was frantically planning a wedding, and my fiance' would keep me company by reading aloud while I hand-cut 200 snowflakes -- --

    -- an aside: Don't get married too close to Christmas. It's cold. And paper snowflakes do not have to be unique. Just buy the big bag at the craft store and save yourself the hair-wrenching work.

-- where was I? Right. My fantastic fiance' read the book to me, and I would cuddle next to him and be swept away from the stress into the world of Gen, the thief. Gen, and the magus of Sounis, and their secret destination. A world ruled by a pantheon of Greek-like gods, a world of mountains and olive groves and the stories of a rich oral tradition told around the campfire. A world that evokes all the glories of the Aegean Peninsula while mixing such brilliant original details that I have no desire to visit Greece. I want to visit Attolia.

    What I remember most vividly about that precious time shared with my now-husband was my shriek of outrage whenever his voice was tired and he closed the book. And then I would demand, "How does she (Turner) do that?! How can it be so painfully slow, and yet I'm hooked? There's  nothing happening, no action, and I am still desperate for what happens next!!"
    He agreed. Which is how we became addicted and ended up taking her books on our honeymoon (but that's another story).
    As time has passed, I find myself going back to these books again and again. Every time, I am more impressed by the careful balance of characters and the elegance of her plotting. Ms. Turner is a master of the slow reveal, so much so that I am always looking forward to the book's ending - even when I am already aware of what will happen!
    And while I am waxing eloquent on this amazing work, let me mention my favorite part of this book: the untrustworthy narrator. [Please note that I did NOT say the 'unreliable narrator', as that is a term applied by cool English majors who thereby indicate that a storyteller's own bias or ignorance can effect the story's veracity.] Megan Whalen Turner does not place you in the hands of a narrator who is unexpectedly wrong, delusional, or even deceitful. She places you in the hands of a mastermind. 

    And it is breathtaking.

    You can read it, shriek, go back, read it again, and still shriek. And you can know its characters in and out, their secrets, their motives, their plans, and still ...
     It is breathtaking.

     Be forewarned - you may need to cancel all other plans once you begin this book. You won't want to put it down.