Review of “Thick as Thieves” by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: Some Spoilers for Previous Books

This is the fifth installment in the “Queen’s Thief” fantasy series, and it is as charming as the previous entrants into the series. Each book has told a story about the Attolia Kingdom and its neighboring countries from a different perspective. This one is told by Kamet, a minor figure from The Queen of Attolia. It also prominently features a character from the third book, The King of Attolia.

The saga centers on Eugenides, or Gen, named after the God of Thieves. Like his namesake, he had been trained to steal anything and everything, in his case in service to his cousin Helen, Queen of Eddis. But now he is the King of Attolia, having married the queen of that nation. This union followed the failure of the Mede ambassador, Nahuseresh, to win the queen’s hand so he could thereby capture Attolia to incorporate into Mede.

Kamet is one of Nahuseresh’s slaves, but a powerful one, managing all of his finances. He can’t manage Nahuseresh’s moods quite as competently, and is often beaten by him. Still, when he is approached by an Attolian in the halls of the castle who offers to take him to freedom in Attolia, Kamet isn’t interested. After all, he has a lot of power for a slave. But then one of his fellow Mede slaves warns him that Nahuseresh is dead, poisoned during a meeting with his brother. Kamet knows that when a man is murdered, his slaves are tortured and then put to death. Kamut feels he has no choice but to escape, and sneaks out to meet the Attolian at the docks. He doesn’t actually plan to accompany him all the way to Attolia though; he figures the Attolians want to kill him also, and decides he will get away from any pursuers in his own land and then somehow get away from the Attolian.

What ensues next is a buddy road-trip, with Kamet and his Attolian rescuer growing closer as they battle starvation, thirst, a hostile terrain, and a series of dangerous pursuers. Along the way, the Attolian asks Kamet to entertain him with stories about Immakuk and Ennikar, legendary Mede heroes and best friends, as this verse attests:

“Greatly wise cloaked in wisdom was Immakuk
Greatly strong clothed in strength was his true friend
Ennikar
Great was their love and greatly did it sustain them in
Their journeys together.”

[Those who have studied literature will recognize in the saga strong correspondences to The Epic of Gilgamesh, stories from ancient Mesopotamia dating from as early as 2100 BC and often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. Various Babylonian tablets have been found with “episodes” that feature Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and Enkidu, a strong man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk.]

It is clear that this saga will be paralleled in the story of these two travelers as well. But the outcome of their journey is always uncertain. First of all, Kamet becomes increasingly conscious of, and guilty over, the betrayal of not telling his rescuer that he believes they are being pursued so vigorously because Kamet must be under suspicion for killing his master. As far as Kamet knows, the Attolian doesn’t even know Nahuseresh is dead. This fact could put him in as grave a danger as it puts Kamet. Secondly, Kamet is repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to sneak away from the Attolian, in part by his own lessening desire to leave him. But he doesn’t trust that he won’t just be killed by the King of Attolia when they arrive there. Kamet believes the king to be a barbarian. We the readers may know differently, but we also do not know what fate is intended for Kamet.

Discussion: There are many issues to ponder explored by the author. For example, as she points out, in the Mede Empire, stealing is considered bad, but it is not a mortal crime. Helping to free a slave, on the other hand, is punishable by death, because it constitutes “disturbing the order of the empire.” We have seen many examples of this attitude in the antebellum South in the U.S. It is always interesting that even while masters maintain their slaves are “content,” they recognize the dangers to their convenient set-up of giving slaves too much latitude, letting them meet with each other and compare notes, educating them, and most importantly, of not instilling habits of obedience both by psychological manipulation and physical violence. Kamet’s response to the possibility of being free is illustrative. He knows no other way to be than to serve a master, and he even makes excuses for his master’s violence toward him. He didn’t have “respect” for masters who let their slaves get away with presumptuousness or trickery.

A second item to contemplate is the true significance of the Ennikar and Immakuk story. Is it just a nice use of the literary device of a frame tale, or does it have even more meaning? A couple of strange characters appear at different times in the adventures of the two main protagonists who inexplicably seem to know who they are, and who help move the action in the right direction. It’s certainly thought-provoking.

Gilgamesh taming a lion

Finally, perhaps the other biggest issue is just what kind of story this is. Is it one of best buddies? Is it a love story between two men? Either way, the development of the relationship between the two is lovely, and constitutes a large part of the appeal of this story.

Discussion: This fifth book, like the others, tells a heart-warming story with winning characters and nuanced characterizations. There is good pacing as we follow the protagonists on their danger-filled journey, and impressive growth in, and development of, Kamet, because at first, even while he may be “free” in body, he is still not “free” in his mind.

Evaluation: This is a terrific series. The books can be read as standalones, but the writing is so good and the story so wonderful, you won’t want to miss any of them.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2017

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2 Responses to Review of “Thick as Thieves” by Megan Whalen Turner

  1. Jeanne says:

    The pacing is good. She’s such a good writer!

  2. Yayyyy I am so glad you enjoyed this! I love love loved it, of course, and it was absolutely worth the long long wait between Megan Whalen Turner books. In my most joyous dreams I did not imagine that we’d get a WHOLE NOTHER COSTIS BOOK. He’s such a cinnamon roll angel.

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