Return of the Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Eugenides, Thief of Eddis, married the queen of Attolia, and now, through a series of unimagined twists and turns, he is the high king of the entire peninsula, including Eddis, Attolia, and Sunis. His cousin is queen of Eddis, and his friend is king of Sunis. The powerful Medes are not happy to see the little countries unified, and so they launch an attack that may end them all.

Pheris is the young heir to Baron Erondites’ family, and his grandfather berates his mother for not killing the crippled boy when he was a baby. Eugenides has asked for the baron’s heir to be raised at the palace in order to create a bond with this dangerous family, but everyone thinks that the heir is Pheris’ younger brother. When Pheris arrives, drooling on the floor, Gen sees something in him that no one else does. Even though he realizes that the Baron sent him to humiliate the new king, Eugenides insists that he stay in the capital. The entire book is written as Pheris’ journal.

Megan Whalen Turner does not rush to get a book out every year, so when she does publish a new title, it is An Event. In October, after twenty years of writing, she released the last of six titles in her beloved “The Queen’s Thief” series, Return of the Thief, and it is a perfect resolution. The title has many meanings, only the first of which is the return of Eugenides as the main character of the story. “Gen” has often been voted the best hero of YA literature, and readers missed him in a couple of earlier volumes when Turner focused her story on secondary characters. Now, however, he is front and center, but the title also hints at the deep character study Turner unfolds throughout the story. All human beings are more complex than meets the eye, but brilliant and powerful people are able to indulge their desires in ways that may be dangerous to those around them, and the revelation of one’s darker nature can be unsettling, even to those who love them. Eugenides is a king, but before his ascension to the throne, he was born to be a Thief.

This series has never fit comfortably in the Young Adult category, and this particular volume continues the political intrigue and subtle deception while adding thoughtful explorations of marriage and other adult relationships. “The Queen’s Thief” is set in a pseudo-ancient Greek world, with rugged terrain, hot weather, and a panoply of pagan gods and goddesses. The series reads mostly as historical fiction, but it slips into fantasy territory with the occasional visitation from the gods. Eugenides is startled to discover that he is not the only person able to see the goddess Moira.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough for everyone from smart young teens to adults. The layered plots and intricate relationships stand up to repeated readings, as I can attest after reading earlier volumes over again as each new one came out. It is best to read them in order, as they are not stand-alone novels, and the details are complex. Turner certainly stuck the landing. The last few pages and the epilogue fairly sing off the pages.

*Postscript: The Hollywood Reporter has announced that Disney has picked up The Thief for the screen. It will be tough to do the books justice. Here’s hoping!

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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