Welcome to guest dare! For those new to the feature, our Guest Dare is a monthly endeavor in which we invite an unsuspecting victim to read a book totally outside of their comfort zone. You can read all previous Dare posts HERE
This month’s daree is Fantasy writer Sam Sykes, author of the recently released Tome of the Undergates. This dare happened as many things do these days, on Twitter when an unsuspecting Sam asked Ana which book she was reading when she posted “OMG this book is AWESOME”. The book was A Conspiracy of Kings fourth book in the series that starts with The Thief and one of Ana’s ALL TIME favorites. Sam showed some interest and here we are: DARED!
Let’s see what Sam thought of The Thief:
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: This edition – 2005 (1st ed. 1996)
Paperback: 304 pages
Stand alone or series: First book in the Queen’s Thief series
The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the theif’s abilities. What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.
Why did we recommend this book: This is quite possibly, Ana’s favorite book series of all time.
Sam Sykes’ Review:
Megan Whalen Turner
Review by Sam Sykes
I can sum up The Thief in the following phrase: if this book was a girl, it’d be one of those pretty girls that wears frumpy clothes and doesn’t bathe.
To go a little deeper: I started this book two months ago and only finished it two nights ago. It is two hundred and eighty pages long.
If that’s not enough for you: The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, is a hugely puzzling book. It’s a good book with some really bad parts. It’s an excellent story cursed by some really dull moments.
It’s a unique world and I found my enjoyment of it marred by the fact that the author really, really loves olive trees (read the book, you’ll see what I mean).
The Thief is basically exactly what it sounds like: a thief. Namely, Gen, a thief talented enough to steal the royal ring of the King of Sounis and dumb enough to boast about it to everyone, landing himself in prison. The King’s magus (he never gets a name; let that be a warning to you who plan to pursue administrative careers…in a fantasy world) comes forward and offers him a deal: a stay of execution in exchange for putting his talents to use for the good of Sounis.
This deed, apparently, is to steal Hamiathes’ Gift: a stone that is said to confer immortality and, more importantly, be used as a token of binding marriage between Sounis and a rival city, thus securing more land and treaties for the kingdom. Gen reluctantly agrees and is spirited off with three fairly unimpressive characters who remain pretty unimpressive throughout the story.
The Thief’s problems become quite clear off the bat: absolutely nothing happens for one hundred fifty pages. This is an exaggeration, but not a big one. Apart from Gen accepting the deal (which takes about twenty pages), the only thing that the characters do for one hundred fifty pages is eat, walk and tell stories. That’s it.
Remember my comparison of this book to a girl who doesn’t bathe? This is about the time you start to smell her. The beginning is astonishingly dull. I can see that there are attempts to set the scene and that there are efforts to establish the characters, but there’s a problem with this: the characters are pretty unremarkable and the scene is olive trees. Nothing but olive trees for nearly half the book.
The main characters are the magus (grumpy dude), Sophos (young dude who whines), Ambiades (older dude who whines) and Pol (soldier dude who…I think he cooks a chicken at one point). And Gen, of course. Gen is a lot more remarkable than these characters, but only in the same way that a glass of three-day-old wine is a lot more remarkable than a glass of three-week-old Diet Coke. He’s witty, he’s charming, he’s clever…but never in a really impressive way like you might expect from the standards set by many rogues in fantasy and YA literature. He’s watered-down a lot and tends to just resign himself to the situation at hand.
As a result of this, the quest goes very expectedly. Absolutely everything goes as planned.
Until the final third of the book.
And then, my friends, shit gets real.
I’m not going to spoil the ending. I’m not even going to spoil the climax. And while it may be supremely unsatisfying for you to hear this: they do get Hamiathes’ Gift and the plot takes a couple of very cool turns that I was really impressed to see happen.
From there, the book only ramps up until it’s about ready to blow. By the end, it’s very impressive and I was left with the feeling that I really wanted to see more of Gen and this world.
However, this only adds to the puzzlement of the whole thing.
Turner is obviously a supremely talented author. She’s got a firm grasp on her main character (arguably a firm grasp on the other ones, if only with her little finger), she’s got a pretty vivid imagination, she clearly knows what makes a scene work and, while her prose didn’t move me to tears, it’s very fluid and makes the book a swift read.
So why is the beginning so freaking boring? Why is Gen so watered-down? Why are the other characters essentially pointless? What’s going on here?
“Ah-hah,” you might say, “you big dope, Sam. Didn’t you know that there is a twist? Surely, you ugly son of a bitch, it explains everything! Your short-sightedness and literary lack of curiosity make me sick. I have your website on another tab in my browser and as soon as I am done typing this, I will click over to it and SPIT ON YOUR GODDAMN WEBSITE, PTOOIE!”
First of all: ow.
Second: yes, there is a twist. Twists are tricky things, though, as noted cinematic Lucifer M. Night Shyamalan has proved with every movie he’s ever made, ever.
A twist cannot really explain away things. It can’t excuse wooden characters, a boring opening or other failed plot devices. Those are still failures and just because they happened that way to fulfill the twist doesn’t really excuse them. Ideally, a twist is just a clever little icing on the cake, a moment which really tops off a book that we really liked. It can’t be the plot itself.
A good twist makes an audience gasp. A bad twist makes an audience groan.This particular twist made me go “oh, hey” in the same soft, gentle tone I once used to tell someone they peed themselves.
In the end, The Thief cleans up pretty nice: she takes a shower and maybe puts on some nicer clothes and when she farts she tells you about it so you can open a window and maybe you want to go out with her again sometime.
All in all, a very good book that left me wanting more, even if the beginning wanted me leaving less.
A huge thank you to Sam for accepting to be dared. We (reads: Ana) hope that you will pick up the next book in the series!
Next on the Guest Dare, is’t Erika from Jawas Read Too, reading of one our fave reads of 2010 so far: