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Read - Or Re-read - This Intriguing Series

Since librarians are always scrambling to keep up with the latest books, re-reading is a pleasure we rarely enjoy.  But this spring sees the release of the newest title by Megan Whalen Turner in a series whose first book appeared in 1996.  Reason enough to start again at the beginning!

 “The Thief,” the first in the series, is set in a landscape that draws from ancient Greece for its look and feel, but it’s clearly Turner’s unique creation. As the book opens, Gen (short for Eugenides) has been thrown into prison for stealing from the King.  Boastful, brash and hot-tempered, Gen is a master thief, and that ability accounts for his unexpected release when the magus, counselor to the king, drags him out of his cell.  The plan is for Gen to steal Hamiathes's Gift, a precious stone that confers the power to rule on whoever holds it.  The magus knows where the stone lies, but the cave where it is hidden is so impenetrable that generations of thieves have perished trying to find it.

The first part of the book has the elements common to every quest tale:  warring personalities (Gen and the magus are joined by two young men and a seasoned soldier), physical danger, and long days in harsh terrain.  But when the group arrives in the barren land where the cave is located, the story takes some unusual twists.

Gen sets off alone, armed only with his thieving tools, into a cave that leads to a dark underground maze that’s entirely empty except for the bones of a few earlier, unsuccessful thieves.  He explores every square inch of the maze but finds no doorways or hidden cupboards.  With only three nights left before the river floods the site, he’s under pressure to find the treasure soon or face certain death.

It’s no surprise that Gen is successful, but the story isn’t over yet.  The last chapter is filled with breathtaking twists that cast the entire tale in a new light.  Readers may be tempted to go back to the beginning to fully enjoy Turner’s clever, subtle misdirection and foreshadowing. 

The sequel, “The Queen of Attolia,” opens with Gen thieving again, this time in the palace of the Attolian queen.  But when he is caught, the queen takes a terrible revenge on him.  She returns him to Eddis, his own country, where he nurses his injury, while the queen of Eddis begins planning a war against Attolia.  This book and the sequel, “The King of Attolia,” weave vivid battle scenes and intricate plotting into storytelling that never falters.  Fans of the first three are eagerly anticipating the newest book, “A Conspiracy of Kings,” which reintroduces one of the young men from the first book, along with the return of Eugenides and the magus.

Turner’s books have received much acclaim, including a Newbery Honor for “The Thief.”  Despite that, readership remains small.  Though published for kids twelve and up, the books turn on concerns – politics, strategy, shifting relationships – that may have more appeal to adults than to teens.  Try the series on thoughtful middle and high school readers who enjoy Turner’s setting, characters and political brilliance.

For readers ten and up, Turner’s collection of magical short stories, “Instead of Three Wishes,” weaves together fantasy and reality, combining dry humor with an appreciation of the absurd.

This article was originally published in the Free Lance-Star on May 11, 2010.