I can never decide how to answer the question “what is ‘The Queen’s Thief’ series about?”
I could respond with the obvious, “it is the story of a thief’s adventures,” but that does not do these books anywhere near justice. I could say “I sometimes think that my entire reading experience may just be me fruitlessly chasing the high I felt upon finishing ‘The Queen of Attolia’ for the first time,” but that is probably more information than most people need. Either way, I am in a quandary because “The Queen’s Thief” is made to continuously defy and divert expectations.
The joy of Megan Whalen Turner’s long-running series is precisely what makes it so hard to describe — each book is a meticulously constructed puzzle box, filled with slippery language and narrative slights of hand, that resets its own status quo again and again. In describing “The Queen’s Thief” I am always afraid of saying too much, lest I give away all the fun.
“The Queen’s Thief” is a series for readers who love being fooled, whose ideal scenario upon finishing a book is to exclaim “how did the author do that?” and turn back to page one to find out.
Ever since the release of the series’ first installment, “The Thief,” in 1996, Turner has delighted and beguiled readers with her tale of fantasy adventures, political machinations and intrigue, and unlikely friendships and romances.
Turner’s inspiration for “The Queen’s Thief” began with a 1993 trip to Greece. “The setting for the story was inspired by Greece, but it isn’t Greece and this isn’t a Bronze Age culture… it is certainly more like the Byzantine period than classical Greece,” Turner writes in the afterword to “The Thief.”
“What I wanted to create was a pantheon that might have inspired my characters that the ancient Greeks had for their gods… or would have if a civilization like theirs had developed for another thousand years without the rise of monotheism.”
From this seed grew “The Thief,” the story of Gen, a thief freed from prison by the King’s Magus to steal a legendary object. To the Magus, Gen is just a tool to be used and discarded, but this thief is hatching schemes of his own. With “The Thief,” Turner took what could have been a simple quest narrative, and gave it depth, unforgettable characters, and one of the most iconic, oft-replicated-yet-never-matched plot twists in recent fantasy.
With each subsequent book, “The Queen’s Thief” only gets better — the stakes higher, the scope wider, the intrigue thicker. Turner never plays it safe, experimenting with different narrators, structures, and subject matter from book to book, so that readers are continuously forced to reevaluate their impressions of characters and setting.
While many epic fantasy series can feel more like impersonal historical narratives than the stories of real people, “The Queen’s Thief” remains grounded in the experiences of its cast of loveable-yet-complex protagonists. No matter how grand or ambitious Turner’s narrative gets, she never loses sight of the individuals who form its emotional core.
Whenever I recommended “The Queen’s Thief” in the past, I always did so with the caveat that the series was ongoing and there were no listed release dates for future books. But that is no longer the case. As of October 6, Gen’s story will at last conclude with “The Return of The Thief,” the sixth and final book in “The Queen’s Thief” series. New readers will be able to delight in binging the complete series and I will try not to cantankerously grumble about the seven year wait between “A Conspiracy of Kings” and “Thick As Thieves.”
Although “The Queen’s Thief” has yet to obtain the same level of mainstream recognition as many other fantasy series, the series’ fanbase is no less ardent for its smaller size. The books have developed something of a cult following online, which Turner herself sometimes interacts with (her Tumblr is a gift). Moreover, “The Queen’s Thief” has become something of a writer’s writer’s series, beloved by and inspirational to the likes of Lloyd Alexander, Leigh Bardugo, Holly Black, and Laini Taylor.
“The Queen’s Thief” has significantly shaped the modern fantasy landscape, and I have no doubt that it will go down in history as one of the best fantasy series of the past several decades. So, what are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy of “The Thief” and prepare to be gloriously bamboozled.