Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief is set in some sort of post-Ancient-Greek fantasyland. I imagine the references to megarons and peplos are lost on a lot of people, and I recommend reading up a little on Greek myths and the Mycenean age so as to have a firmer grasp of the imagery she is conjuring up.

But don’t read too much. Turner was heavily inspired by Greece, but this is not a work of deep, thoughtful world-building. And time has moved on here at any rate, with guns and pocketwatches. These end up feeling out of place, since even with all the time that has obviously passed since buildings of Cyclopean masonry have been built, it still mostly feels like a small, pre-medieval world.

And there’s eucalyptus trees.

But it works. The mythology is her own, but the gods and goddesses, and the stories of them feel very Greek.

As for the story itself, it also works. It’s essentially a caper story, with self-professed master-thief Gen being pulled out prison to steal the unstealable. Much of the early part of the book moves slowly, as the party makes their way to an unrevealed destination. Gen narrates the entire book, and it would be so easy for his childish antics to become too disagreeable, but he maintains a light-hearted enough tone to keep the reader engaged. As the story continues, and Gen physically recovers from his time in prison, thing pick up a little, and the landscape gets more interesting. And then they arrive, and things really pick up, with the last few chapters passing in a blur.

What I had not picked up on is that Gen is not an entirely reliable narrator. I don’t think he ever lies in the book, but there are things not said. I could see where the plot was going, and it predictably ended up there; there was one spot near the end that what had happened was blindingly obvious. And yet, I was still taken by surprise.

Let’s say I saw what Gen was doing, but I didn’t see who he was. It’s a well worthwhile book, and everything I see says it gets better in the sequels.