Gen is in prison, caught after bragging about a particularly clever theft to an undercover agent of the King, when he is given an option: rot in jail for the rest of his life, or help to recover an ancient stone that is said to bestow sovereignty of a neighboring kingdom. The Magus, the king’s adviser, bring Gen, along with several other party members, on a trip to a distant and isolated spot, where Gen has to brave a highly dangerous attempt at stealing, not just from the neighboring kingdom, but from the gods themselves.
The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, makes my (admittedly long) list of favorite books. The characterization is phenomenal. Every character is multi-faceted and three-dimensional, with a realistic blend of faults and virtues. Even characters that the reader doesn’t like are given positive aspects or moments. Gen himself is a masterpiece, quick-witted, sullen, creative, and stubborn by turns. Several characters have surprising secrets, all of which are foreshadowed so subtly that when they are revealed the reader is left thinking “why didn’t I see that coming!” rather than “where did that come from?”
The book is classified as a fantasy, in part because it is set in an alternate world. Although there are elements of the fantastical in the last part of the book, they do not emerge until almost the end, and remain subtle. While there may be swords (which Gen has vowed never to use) this is not a typical sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Part of the book relates mythological tales that are only tangentially related to the main plot. Various readers view these sections as either creative and wonderful, or confusing and skippable.