Turner’s latest fantasy
manages the startling feat of
offering to readers an escape
from reality—and also a
mirror to it.
BY MAGGIE REAGAN
Kamet, the high-ranking slave of a politically important master, is nothing if not pragmatic about his circumstances. “When a man is murdered, his slaves are tortured,” he explains dispassionately. “If any confess, then all are executed
whether they share in the guilt or not. No one will buy them and they can hardly be
freed—what a temptation that would put before the enslaved population. In the case
of a poisoning, where the administration of the poison is unclear, the slaves are put to
death on principle.”
It’s a horrifying, if not altogether unsurprising, perspective; of course, slave owners
wouldn’t view their slaves as people. It’s the conclusion Kamet comes to at the end of
this speech that is startling. “The Medes,” he says of the people who own him, “fear
little in quite the way they fear their own slaves.”
For Kamet, slavery has been his life since he was stolen by the Medes from his home-
land, Setra, as a child. But he has little desire for a different life; as a secretary and
house slave, he is educated and well cared for, and he is being groomed to become the
personal slave for the emperor himself. Kamet has authority in his master’s household,
and ambition enough to seize what power he can. When a man comes from the nearby
kingdom of Attolia and, claiming to be sent by the Attolian king, offers Kamet his
freedom, Kamet finds the idea laughable; Attolia, he believes, is a backward country,
and freedom there is worth very little to him. “There is freedom in this life and there is
power,” he thinks, “and I was ambitious for the latter.”
But Kamet loses all choice in the matter when his master is poisoned. Forced to flee,
he joins the Attolian, escaping the city and embarking on a treacherous journey with a
companion whose friendship he resists, heading toward a country he hates and a life he
does not want. In Attolia, a man who is both a king and a thief waits for Kamet’s ar-
rival, and he has more invested than Kamet knows.
Kamet’s story stands alone, though existing fans of the Queen’s Thief novels will
certainly recognize some familiar places and people. Though he barely appears on the
page, Turner’s original hero and titular thief, the clever and charismatic Eugenides,
is very much a presence, and his machinations, as they often do, shape the course of
Kamet’s story. But even more than plot twists and political intrigue, what is so welcomingly familiar and so wholly real here is the depth of the characters and the tenuous,
frightening instability of the world around them. In his element, Kamet is arrogant and
vain; in the clutches of a larger world, he becomes frightened, thoughtful, often kind,
and, at times, incredibly strong.
There is fantasy that is an escape and fantasy that is a mirror, and this, astonishingly,
is both. Kamet’s flight into the unknown is hair-raising and filled with danger, but his
world is seething, poised on the brink of war. Relations between countries are strained,
loyalties are tested, and ordinary people brace for a period of darkness. Still, though, all
is not hopeless. Despite his ambition, Kamet, like his captors, knows that oppression is
not sustainable, that tyranny is ephemeral, and that in times of change, one slave—one
man—can make all the difference.
This world, its people, and its gods remain as fiercely alive as they were when The
Thief first stole hearts as a 1997 Newbery Honor Book. For newcomers, this is a worthy
introduction; for loyal readers, it will be like coming home.
Thick as Thieves.
By Megan Whalen
May 2017. 352p. Greenwillow,
$17.99 (9780062568243). Gr. 7–10.