Megan Whalen Turner
December 2005 edition (originally published in 1996)
The king of Sounis’s magus – his closest advisor – believes he knows the location of a mythical stone, Hamaithes’s Gift, that will grant its owner sovereignty over the neighboring kingdom of Eddis. Lacking the skills it will take to retrieve the stone, the magus chooses Gen, a known thief who is in the Sounis dungeons for stealing the king’s signet ring. Gen can earn his freedom back if he is successful in getting the stone; if he doesn’t, it is back to the dungeon. Gen, the magus, and a few companions set off, crossing treacherous terrain and pretty much bugging the crap out of each other. They reach the location where the stone is rumored to be – a temple to the Greek-esque pantheon of gods in this world that is hidden by a river and very rarely accessible. Gen only gets a handful of tries at a couple hours each in terrible conditions. The scenes in the temple are pretty suspenseful, so you’ll have to read it yourself to find out if he is successful. Either way, in the end it turns out the only thing more mysterious than the stone is Gen himself.
For better or worse, The Thief has several hallmarks of classic high fantasy – an epic journey by an unlikely band of companions, indulgent setting descriptions of dramatic landscapes, vaguely medieval kingdoms, mystical polytheistic religion, and the possibility of magic or, at the very least, divine intervention. While I like this style of fantasy to a point, but it also has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to kids. It takes a long time to get to relatively brief bursts of action, which are broken up by a lot of word building and description. The Thief also has the Tolkein-like feature of keeping the story going long after you think the main plot has ended. It pays off in the end but can make the book feel like a drag in the final 50 pages or so. Fast-moving, plot-driven fantasy like the Percy Jackson books and even the super deep world of Harry Potter have mostly put high fantasy for children out of vogue with young readers unless they are very advanced or very patient readers. But if high fantasy is your jam, The Thief is the real deal and there are three more books in the series.
Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King