The Long-Awaited Return of the Thief: Book Review

Blurb for Return of the Thief by Megan Whelan Turner

The thrilling, twenty-years-in-the-making, conclusion to the New York Times–bestselling Queen’s Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner. This beloved and award-winning series began with the acclaimed novel The Thief. It and four more stand-alone volumes bring to life a world of epics, myths, and legends, and feature one of the most charismatic and incorrigible characters of fiction, Eugenides the thief. Now more powerful and cunning than ever before, Eugenides must navigate a perilous future in this sweeping conclusion. 

Neither accepted nor beloved, Eugenides is the uneasy linchpin of a truce on the Lesser Peninsula, where he has risen to be high king of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis. As the treacherous Baron Erondites schemes anew and a prophecy appears to foretell the death of the king, the ruthless Mede empire prepares to strike. The New York Times–bestselling Queen’s Thief novels are rich with political machinations, divine intervention, dangerous journeys, battles lost and won, power, passion, and deception.

My Review

I’ve been waiting for this book for two years. Even in anticipation, I didn’t get to it right when it came out, but I’ve read it now and oh, boy was it worth the wait. It has everything I love about the series, the writing, the world, and, of course, Gen. It’s nice to know that even as high king, or annux, of three countries, Gen can still get his ass kicked spectacularly. Spectacularly, because he enjoys nothing so much as making a spectacle. And he’s still a blasphemous whinger with vanity the size of the Mede Empire. And he still plots circles around everyone else in the room. Contradiction, thy name is Attolis Eugenides Eugenideides, annux over Hephestia’s Peninsula, king of Attolia, king over Sounis, and Eddis, king from the Macheddic Mountains to the sea, king from the Melenzetti Pass to the River Lusimina, and Thief of Eddis.

Okay, I will stop fangirling here, eventually. Basically, I don’t know what to review because what I really want to do, and what probably should be done, is a review of the entire series. All twenty-five years and six books of it. There is so much built up, foreshadowed, hinted at, and developed in the five preceding books that gets substance and explanation in Return. Plot points relating to Gen’s character and past vaguely implied from book 1 are finally given voice—the dynamic of Eddisian politics, family, tradition, and the monarchy are given a bit more scope even than were given in book 2 which took place for its majority in Eddis—the Attolian court, its various pitfalls, and the fraught relationship between Gen and the palace staff (and at times between he and the queen) were carried on in their development from book 3—the scope of Gen’s machinations and the consequences of them directly flow from books 4 and 5 to culminate in the final confrontation with the Medes.

The voicing/narration of the books has grown steadily away from Eugenides’ first person narrative in the first book, going the furthest afield with book 5, Thick as Thieves (which, incidentally, should cede its “thick” card to Return—this book is massive), which barely had Eugenides in it as more than a presence. Return moves back into the palace at Attolia, reminiscent of the observer status of Costis in book 3, The King of Attolia. In book 6, Pheris, the heir of a powerful (and treacherous) Attolian baron, provides a written account of his time spent at the palace during the turbulent time through the end of events in Thick as Thieves and continuing.

Again, like Eugenides and anyone else throughout the series, the age of Pheris isn’t explicit, but I would put him anywhere between 9 and 12. Perhaps older, given his disability has affected his growth. Pheris, who is mute and considered an idiot and embarrassment to his family, is sent to Eugenides to join his attendants in what is intended as an insult. He is received kindly instead, and his gifts for mathematics, observation, and a newfound loyalty to his king soon become invaluable to events as they unfold according to divine will—and Gen’s, of course.

The psychic distance is really masterfully done, as Gen, ever an unreliable narrator, cannot be trusted to actually represent his actions or those of others with justice. Though I submit that he remains the undisputed main character of this series, shifting temporary focus and development to others like Costis, Sophos, and Kamet, Gen’s personality is such that he is better understood from an objective point of view–he is consistently self-deceiving and woefully un-self-aware at times. He also takes perverse delight in pushing people’s buttons, playing tricks, withholding information, and generally making himself a pestilential nuisance to everyone he encounters, so all in all, probably not the perspective you want narrating a politcal alliance and military campaign we’re meant to take seriously. And we are meant to take him seriously. Though the title seems to promise a return of Gen the thief we were introduced to in the same named book 1, The Thief, it actually means something else.

Gen, though he exploited the position and title of Queen’s Thief, never fully settled into that station in Eddis, choosing instead to turn his efforts elsewhere, taking up another title. This book illuminates the true nature and power of the position of Eddisian Thief, and that weight and its heritage is what Eugenides finally accepts. There’s nothing quite a chilling as a Thief coming into his own. As alliances fall to pieces, tragedy tears into a tumultuous marriage, subjects begin to foment against their leaders, and a natural disaster threatens to drown the entire country of Eddis in fire, military forces of incredible magnitude march on the Little Peninsula. Their only salvation: the return of the Thief.

This installation of the Queen’s Thief carries with it as much Greco-Roman inspired elements as ever, with a play competition in which the wrights lampoon the leaders with thinly-veiled innuendo, and even an element of Shakespeare’s histories, in an incident reminiscent of Henry V during the battle of Agincourt. I have been deeply invested in this world since chapter 3 of The Queen of Attolia sunk its hook in my heart, and Return of the Thief had me swinging from the chandeliers as figuratively as Eugenides does literally:

“Unkingly,” [the queen] said.

“My god, I hope so,” said the king.   

Return of the Thief, p. 284

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