|Date Published||05 May 2022|
When Eugenides’ boasting lands him in prison, the only way out is to put his thieving talents to use and steal a legendary object. The question is not whether he can succeed, but whether he can succeed and stay alive.
Gen doesn’t like the magus or his three travelling companions. He’s stuck with two apprentices he dubs Useless the Elder and Useless the Younger and a taciturn and irritatingly competent guard. Gen has no intention of being cooperative. He doesn’t like horses, either, and makes this known as often as he possibly can.
For the magus and his two apprentices, Ambiades and Sophos, the journey with a complaining and sulky Eugenides is interminable, but as a spectator, I found it vastly entertaining, even with the slow pace of travel, and for me the story never lagged. The world Eugenides inhabits is very similar to the far distant past of our own world, when warring states fought for dominance around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. There are references to figures from Greek history, but it’s clear from early on that there are substantial differences to the ancient world known from our history books. The presence of guns, for one thing. And magic.
Megan Whalen Turner’s world-building is excellent. She gives the story added depth through the myths recounted by both the magus and Eugenides as they while away some of the boredom of the journey. I found myself as easily invested in these tales as I was as a child in the Greek and Roman myths, and also those of the Sumerians and Babylonians. She has a natural storyteller’s style, and recounts the myths with rhythm and subtlety, bringing her skillfully woven alternative history vividly to life.
The limited character set works well, and I soon found myself warming to the dour, watchful Pol, charged with the safety of the magus and his apprentices. The aloof Ambiades was harder to like, but Sophos was endearing, and the magus was intriguing. When Eugenides learns that his job is to steal a mythical object from an underground temple, his professional pride is piqued, and he can’t bring himself to do anything less than his best, especially when his own life depends on success.
The temple is enough to challenge the combined ingenuity of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, and it was fascinating to watch Eugenides work his way through the puzzle. Learning in an author’s note at the end of the book that this section was inspired by a visit in the 1990s to an underground cistern in the fortress of Mycenae in Greece in the early 1990s, before health and safety reared its head at such sites, explained why elements of the story seemed so familiar. I’d visited the same place 20 years before the author’s visit, and I was delighted to learn that it hadn’t changed at all in the two decades after my trip!
The Thief is an extremely entertaining adventure story, woven throughout with magical elements that are wholly in keeping with the setting. As Eugenides learns, the gods are a capricious bunch, and the only person he can really rely on is himself.
Reviewed 29 April 2023 by Linda Wilson