I can steal your imagination Megan Whalen Turner read-a-thon

December 7, 2009

The Thief (1996) 304pp

“I can steal anything”, says Gen, the eponymous thief of Megan Whalen Turner’s excellent children’s adventure. He captured my imagination, against my inclination.  The title threatened an adorably disreputable ne’er-do-well character from the fantasy stockroom. Tricksters (see Joseph Campbell) make entertaining protagonists, but I’m wary of the stereotype. They are often too cute, lacking the dangerous unpredictability that a Raven, a Loki or a Monkey brings to myth (and thief heroes are rarely found in modern settings, where B&E appears less adorable). Turner’s thief avoids this problem through clever plotting, although I will complain that, like many literary thieves, he is almost magically talented in his thief skills. The world of The Thief is not heavily fantastical and has no magic or magical beasts. Turner elaborated on archaic Greek culture, inventing nations and pantheons of gods, and adding apocryphal technology, to produce a story something like myth, if myths were narrated in the personable voice of a boy hero.

The Queen of Attolia (2000) 368pp

The choice of first person point of view is the cleverest tactical decision of the author, and I will let you learn why for yourself- the plot of The Thief is highly vulnerable to spoilage. I read the series inside out and backwards, starting somewhere in the middle of The Queen of Attolia, then picking through The King of Attolia before starting over properly with The Thief, and so I knew of several important plot twists before the plot revealed them. Having deprived myself of the surprise and suspense, I still enjoyed novels so much I read them twice, but I was rather sorry to have missed out on the orderly progression of revelations. I recommend that innocent readers do not do as I did. Inside-out may allow you to appreciate Turner’s craft and style, but you can admire her clever construction on your second reading. Let Gen narrate The Thief at his own pace. Don’t even peek at the cover blurbs on the sequels!

The King of Attolia (2006) 432pp

As The Thief opens, Gen has been sitting in the king’s prison long enough to have lost track of the days and grown thin, weak and filthy. His bragging led to his conviction and imprisonment for stealing the king’s seal, and now leads the king’s scholar and advisor, the magus, to extract him. The magus needs a thief. A disposable thief. He wants to steal a legendary relic, once used to confer the sovereignty of the kings of the neighboring kingdom of Eddis. The magus would like to confer sovereignty of Eddis on his own king of Sounis. The relic may be hidden in yet another rival kingdom, Attolia. Adventure and intrigue ensue.

Embrace the opening exposition. If you are lazy like me you may have no patience for exposition without encouragement. I have a bad habit of skipping past opening chapters until I love the characters and story enough to catch them on the second pass. The exposition may be lyrical, it’s detail development essential, but coming at the very opening of a book, it has the problem of not having yet earned my interest. Genre novels tend to solve the problem of reader impatience by jumping straight into action, which does grab the attention, but may cost it later. Or maybe the problem is not a problem. I generally enjoy the story even after robbing myself of the proper framing. If the novel is wily and complicated, I am forced to go back and address the opening the author staged for me, and if it isn’t wily, then maybe it doesn’t need the exposition anyway.

Instead of Three Wishes: stories (2006) 160pp

Before I digress further and wander into spoiler territory, I want to comment on format. I borrowed the Thief series and Turner’s short story collection, Instead of Three Wishes, from the digital holdings of the Seattle Public Library. Downloading the files as I lounged on my couch, long after hours for the local library branch, had decided instant gratification appeal, but yoked me to my laptop until I finished. The Adobe ePub format has functional pagination and clickable table of contents, is searchable and bookmarkable, and looks good- but I admit, it is not as satisfying as holding the paper copy in my hand. Even the crappy paperbacks I bought (because the library copies totally sold me) with their cheap acid paper and smudged ink and bindings that are already ungluing. Rather sorry print quality for a Newberry Honor book, I think, although the cover art is very nice (but what is the appeal of the cut-off head look that is so very popular now?).

Spoiler-full discussion begins below the fold.

Coming soon….


4 Responses to “I can steal your imagination Megan Whalen Turner read-a-thon”

  1. Great book reviews! I haven’t heard of this series, and it sounds lovely. I am going to check out the digital offerings of SPL.

    • revdrliz Says:

      The digital books are a good deal, and I don’t think the right audience has discovered the Turner files yet, so you could probably have them soon. *All*of them were available when I wanted them; it was amazing, like driving cross-town and hitting only green lights. And by the time you read them, I may actually have finished the spoiler review. I’m into *Holy Fools* now, by the way. Nice recommendation. LL

  2. revdrliz Says:

    I have to correct myself, because Jennifer Crusie is jokey about B&E in *Faking It*, which is sort of adorable. I think she pulls if off because *Faking It* is a romantic farce all the way through, but she’s walking a fine line here…in any case it isn’t a fantasy, so it doesn’t have the epic seriousness paired with the improbable stock Thief character:

    “[thieves] are pickpockets, burglars, robbers, fences, and housebreakers, but never muggers. The Guild claims to be a body of artists. All its members profess horror at violence (but are quite proficient fighters all the same) and pride themselves on bringing off robberies in apparently impregnable TREASURE stores, on picking locks, and on climbing smooth walls.”
    ~D.W. Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland

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