SPOILERIFIC THREAD: Return of the Thief & the Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
A thread for discussing Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series with spoilers included. All your thoughts are welcome.
For those readers who prefer spoiler-free reviews and discussions, reviews of the earlier books can be found below:
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings
Thick as Thieves
Return of the Thief
We’ve also had two interviews with Megan Whalen Turner where she discusses her books and her writing process:
Interview: Megan Whalen Turner, Author of the Queen’s Thief Series (2017)
Interview: Megan Whalen Turner is Back, and So is Eugenides (2020)
Aaaaaah! It’s finally here! I can’t wait for my copy and am happy to hear spoilers from anyone who’s read it already.
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Wow! You’re the first person I’ve met who wants spoilers for the books even before reading them.
So… here are some:
The first third or so of the book takes place concurrently with Thick as Thieves.
There are elephants.
A couple of villains from earlier books make comebacks.
Moira makes an appearance.
(I’m hiding the next couple because they are pretty significant spoilers:)
Buried Comment: Show
I forgot how much I loved the elephants!
@Janine – on spoilers – I’m one of those people who reads the ending first. I had to start listening to mysteries on audio book to stop myself from doing that.
@K: I remember now that I know a couple of others like you. I just didn’t think that applied to these books even for them since the books are so twisty. And yes, it must take all the fun out of mysteries.
So I have some questions, the main one being, what exactly happened to Erondites? Was it something Gen did? The gods?
Also, Relius and Teleus— did anybody see that coming? Was I supposed to know Relius was handsome from a previous book?
Are Costis and Kamet lovers?
And here’s one I’ve wondered about for several books now: how do you pronounce Relius? (I actually bought the audiobook of A Seditious Affair to find out how to pronounce Dominic Frey’s last name, but I don’t want to do that here.)
@Etv13: Okay, so my answers are going to be speculative. They can only be speculation because these things are hinted at and not spelled out.
Re. Erondites—well, just a few scenes before that scene, there this conversation takes place between Irene and Helen:
And a bit later in the same conversation, they say this:
So—I think what happened here (and maybe with the rain too) was that at this point Eugenides was still himself, but he was the god of thieves too. That the god Eugenides came close to possessing the man Eugenides, and that Irene and Helen were aware of it. And what Helen was saying there was that Gen could merge with his god for a little while without losing himself. My interpretation is that he was both himself and his god when what happened with Eronidtes took place. I could be wrong, though!
Re. Teleus and Relius—no, I did not see that one until it was strongly hinted at in the last scene. But they were close in The King of Attolia too. Teleus couldn’t bear to think that Gen was toying with Relius when he said the would pardon him.
(Incidentally, I was sad when Pheris described Teleus as disliking Gen in this book. I thought Teleus had come around to liking or at least admiring Gen by the end of The King of Attolia.)
Re. Kamet and Costis—yes, I think. When I read Thick as Thieves I didn’t notice anything like that but another one or two of our commenters on those threads did. I remember that one reader was surprised because he/she/they had always assumed that Costis and Aristogaton were in item in The Queen of Attolia. The reader was confused, too, by Costis’s story of visiting a lady of the night shortly after his arrival in Attolia from the countryside. At the time, I wasn’t at all sure Kamet and Costis were a couple—it seemed very much open to interpretation and I hadn’t read the book that way.
Before reading Return of the Thief, though, I read the last third or so of Thick as Thieves (the part that took place in Attolia) to jog my memory of the events that took place there (it’s the only one of the books that I’d only read once previously). This time I paid more attention and while I still thought it was left murky, given how Kamet missed Costis when Costis went to visit his family and how glum Kamet was about going to Roa by himself without being even able to say goodbye to Costis, it seemed more possible that there were romantic feelings there.
When I put this together with Costis’s unwillingness to abandon Kamet in Roa in this book, and especially with Kamet asking Costis to dance—the picture that emerges is that yes, they are.
(This reminds me of the time I reviewed one of the earlier books and a commenter said they were sad when Gen hooked up with Irene because they had been shipping Gen and Sophos.)
I pronounce Relius REE-lee-yus. Incidentally, I would NOT recommend using the audiobooks of this series as a guide to pronunciation. In the audiobook of A Conspiracy of Kings, Steve West, who narrates them, pronounced the name Eurydice (Sophos’s sister) YOO-ree-DICE-eee (inflected like Aphordite) rather than the way I’ve always heard it said in English, Yoo-REE-dee-CEE (inflected like Eugenides). It jarred me every time I heard him say it! You would think the publisher would provide a pronunciation guide, but no such luck. The audiobooks are pretty good in most ways, though.
One more question: who killed Ion N.?
I saw Orfee et Eurydice at the LA Opera a couple of years ago, and now I have uh-ree-DEE-Seh in my head for that. Before, I would have said you-RID-iss-Ee. (Man has the auto-correct been fighting me on these.)
Because I need to share them, here my husband’s criticisms of the battle strategy. Read and weep:
They took too long to leave the palace; why not send a group of a few fast horses to scout well ahead of their convoy? Or on one of their fast ships?
Related—what didn’t they set ups a series of messaging posts / smoke signals etc. to relay the Medes’ positions?
They have gunpowder, why not blow up the small gorge to block it and keep the Medes from coming through?
Why not do that in the pass, too?
Why not stand on top of the hills / mountains and roll down boulders to block the horses etc? A fast group traveling ahead could have done that.
Once they secure the fort, why not stock it full of troops to hold it?
Why do they dilly dally for so long after they first hear the Medes are on the move? All the calculations about how fast their army could have been made ahead of time well before the Medes arrived. They knew there was going to be a war.
Why does the artillery, which is on its way, never reach the battle? Yes, it takes a longer time to move the cannons but weeks pass.
But on the other hand, I noticed none of these things. I was too caught up in my story and in the love I felt for the characters so this made no difference to my enjoyment of the book.
@Etv13: Re Ion—that was Gen.
Come for the poisonings and political machinations, stay for the glimpses of a marriage or two well-made!
Here is where I confess that when I read Pheris I thought of the clever, non-threatening, harmless idiot Claudius in Robert Graves’ I Claudius.
Then of course, there is Sejanus, who, no matter when or what, I picture as Sir Patrick Stewart because he played Sejanus in the 1976 BBC I Claudius series. I do believe I mentioned this to the author.
That the god Eugenides came close to possessing the man Eugenides, and that Irene and Helen were aware of it. And what Helen was saying there was that Gen could merge with his god for a little while without losing himself. My interpretation is that he was both himself and his god when what happened with Eronidtes took place. I could be wrong, though!
I think this is a good interpretation and in line with what I was thinking.
(Incidentally, I was sad when Pheris described Teleus as disliking Gen in this book. I thought Teleus had come around to liking or at least admiring Gen by the end of The King of Attolia.)
I can see feeling that way but in a way it gave it a sort of bittersweet realism? Not every will like Gen, even in the end.
Maybe I’m naive, but I thought Costis and Kamet were just Really Good Friends. Is it safe to assume that male homosexuality is much more common/acccepted in this world because of the Ancient Greece connection? Because there seem to be a lot more male couples than female ones. (That’s not a complaint; just an observation.)
I though it was Relius sort of like “relish.”
@Sandra Antonelli: I think the Claudius observation is BRILLIANT! I loved that series when I saw it on PBS many years ago.
@Jennie: I have the DVD of the series… It’s as delicious as the Queen’s Thief series.
It had not occurred to me AT ALL that Gen and the God of Thieves of had merged during the massacre at the Medes’ camp, and now I feel like I missed something major and need to reread despite having finished the book yesterday.
Your husband is quite right, Janine, about the military strategy. Particularly since they knew setting out that they wouldn’t hit the too optimistic timeline. Why not send the ships and a small contingent ahead and try to secure the passes? I guess because they believed the Continental powers were going to help? But that seems naive at best.
(I’ll admit, though, that I love Pheris figuring out the prophecy and halting their advance toward the retreating Medes. That was one of my favorite small moments.)
I completely agree with Sandra that Pheris’s characterization is in conversation with I, Claudius.
@Emma Barry: Well, I could be wrong about Gen and the god Eugenides. That was just how I read that section.
I think the military strategy was there to serve the plot. There were a lot of great scenes we couldn’t have had if they had strategized more logically. My husband poked at least as many holes in the GoT episode about the battle of Winterfell. “Why don’t they put the dragons on the battlements? Why do they send the Dothraki directly in to the path of the army of the dead instead of having them circle around?” Etc.
I think in both these cases the answer had to do with these being near the end of a series. There’s a lot of character and plot points to wrap up when you reach the end of a big project like that, and it’s hard to map them onto a battle in such a way that both battle and plot character arcs are executed well and each culminates organically. Someone has probably done it successfully, but I don’t envy that person. I’m pretty sure my head would break if I tried.
Yes that was a great twist with the prophecy. For once it was the gods laying a twist in Gen’s path rather than Gen laying a twist in the path of other characters.
I have never read I, Claudius—should I? Do you think it holds up?
@Janine, I haven’t read any of Megan Whalen Turner’s books (yet), but my daughter has been a big fan since she was a teen. As regards your question about reading I, Claudius: my husband is a long time fan of the broadcast series. This summer he very much enjoyed reading I, Claudius and the sequel Claudius the God both of which form the basis of the show. He said that the show followed the books closely.
@Janine: Oh, do watch the I, Claudius series (Sir Patrick Stewart with hair—sublime casting of all characters) and read the books. Then let’s talk about Roman and Greek Gods, myths, legends, Attolia, and who poisoned husbands and enemies better.
@Jennie: I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought that about Gen and the god of thieves. I wondered if I was reading in something that wasn’t there but now I’m more confident that this was a correct, or at least plausible, interpretation.
Yeah, I see what you mean about the bittersweet realism. That was much needed because the ending was almost too sweet and the fact that not everyone likes him is what keeps Gen from being a Marty Stu. But I loved the final chapter of The King of Attolia, where Teleus is finally won over (or so I thought), so much. And winning over Teleus was a significant part of what that book was about, and of the long game Gen was playing.
I thought the same of Kamet and Costis for the entirety of Thick as Thieves. We can’t know that much about how female same-sex relationships are viewed, but I find it interesting the way Attolia (the country, not the queen) is enlightened in some ways (that Kamet asks Teleus to dance suggests that male homosexuality is accepted easily) and so benighted In others (abandoning disabled babies).
LOL re. “Relish.”
Thanks so much, Kareni and Sandra. I think I will try the first book but maybe not the show? It’s a smaller time commitment. And Sandra, that conversation sounds like fun.
Kareni, you must read these books!
@Janine: I haven’t read I, Claudius since I was a teenager, and I’ve never seen the series. I remember loving the book, but our sense of classics is quite different now, and I wonder if if the portrait of Roman would hold to up 21st century eyes.
That said, I adored the human drama, and I think there’s some Robert Graves-esque stuff happening here, so it’s probably worth revisiting at some point.
“Because your council had just voted to kill him.”
My jaw dropped. Am I the only one? I thought the thief was beloved, or at least tolerated, in his country. I recall no hint of this before.
@CarolynM: Yeah, I thought this book gave us a much darker view of the Eddisians than the previous books. Seducing other people’s lovers, that really violent Trial, voting to have Gen killed . . . And of the “murderous Thief” as well.
On the other hand, I was really glad that Pharisees (and the book itself) came down so firmly against torture. Everybody’s easy acceptance of torture in the earlier books kind of bothered me.
@Emma Barry: Thanks.
@CarolynM: I didn’t think it fit either, but then I saw it discussed in a comment on a thread where someone asked what people thought about that. Someone else pointed out that the Thieves are not traditionally royal, Gen is a Thief from his mother’s side and a first cousin to the queen due to his father having been the king’s brother.
In one of the books (The King of Attolia, I think) we learn that one of the roles a Thief plays is to act as a check and balance on the Eddisian monarchy. He or she can kill the king or queen if he thinks they are a bad monarch and need to be killed. So to have the same person be both the Thief and a member of the royal family must have been too much power for one person to hold. And then it becomes understandable that Helen’s council viewed him as a threat to the crown, in the same way that (in The King of Attolia) Gen tells Sejanus and his other attendants that the house of Erondites is too powerful and a threat not just to him but also to his heirs, and that he is going to dismantle it because of that and not because of Sejanus’s misdeeds.
It is also mentioned at the end of the The Thief that Gen’s cousins treated him better after he fetched Hamiathes’ Gift and gave it to Eddis. And in The Queen of Attolia it comes up that his cousins, who had been known to do things like hold his head under the water in a well, took up arms and fought ferociously because of his near death and amputation in Attolia’s hands. Eugenides was surprised to learn that he had become beloved to them and that the people of Eddis now saw him as a hero where before he had not been liked.
So—there’s evidence that he was disliked by members of the Eddisian court in before the events of The Thief. I always thought it was a lighter dislike, cousins bullying him in return for his thefts and pranks. So when I read what Helen said in that scene i was jarred. But putting this picture together does make it seem more plausible than it did before I read that comment.
@Etv13: I didn’t feel that torture was accepted in the earlier books. I always felt those books came down against it by showing us what it had done to Gen and to Relius, as well as having Gen tells Relius that if the queen continues on this path it will break not just the people whom she tortures but the queen herself. And there were Gen’s nightmares about being tortured by Attolia as well. The books took a dark view of it IMO but I was still gladdened by Pheris’s statement.
I am so glad there are other people talking about this book, because I just finished and I have a lot of thoughts!! Some of them you all have already brought up…
@Janine – I agree with your interpretation that Gen was sort of being possessed by his God. I realized this because he started using Pheris’s sign language fluently, including the sign for “Relius” which Pheris points out no one should have known but himself. Also, Gen says “Do not be afraid” which is a phrase seen often in the Bible when people encounter angels, so I took it to be a sign that he must be scary to be around when in this state. I really enjoyed this part of the book, as it was something we hadn’t quite seen before, but built on earlier experiences with the gods.
@Etv13 – I also thought we got a much darker view of the Eddisians, and now I want to go back and read the earlier books with this in mind. It puts a different spin on some of the earlier events.
@Janine – In reading your review you mentioned that there were twists in this book that surprised you, but I didn’t find anything as twisty as in the previous books. I am curious which twists you found the most surprising? Probably this could be because I am used to her books now and was immediately looking for twists!
I really enjoyed the first 25% and the last 25% of this book, but I found the middle slow, which has NEVER happened in any of the previous MWT books. I have always been on the edge of my seat the entire way. I got a little bored of them just hanging around the palace and talking about doing things without actually doing them. I recognized that many of these scenes were referencing prior books (and I probably missed half the references), but I wanted a new story, not repeats of the prior books. The scene where Gen fights the Eddisians was SO SIMILAR to the one in KOA where he fights the Attolians that I actually rolled my eyes.
Part of my struggle is that I must have figured out the twists, and I missed being surprised. I also feel that there were a bunch of small storylines that led to nothing (OR I have still not figured out where they led?!) For example: multiple conversations about tattoos (I definitely thought this was going somewhere) and Pheris being really good at math (I thought he was going to save the day somehow by doing math)
Did anyone else feel like this?
@Kirsten Davis: That is so interesting—those hints you point out about the sign for Relius and telling Pheris not to be afraid flew over my head! I was befuddled about the sign and I really like your explanation of it.
Re twists—the biggest twist for me was what the gods meant by the “Tongueless.” Pheris’s original plan for Sejanus was also a twist, or that was what Pheris meant it to be. The betrayal by the Greater Powers (that they were not going to join the Little Peninsula’s armies and were just deliberately stringing them along) was a twist, and so was Gen being the one behind the Eddisian agitation against him, though that last one didn’t work so well for me because I felt it could easily have backfired and so it didn’t seem like such a smart move.
The Medes tricking Gen so they could kidnap him was also a twist. My husband didn’t like that Gen fell for it, though. Gen’s being able to escape the Medes after he was kidnapped was, I think, supposed to be a twist but that one was less surprising than some of the others. Gen’s ability to call down the lightning strike that got Erondites was another. Did you see all of these coming?
I’m kind of surprised the middle 50% felt slow to you since there were some big events there—the goddess barring Gen from sending Pheris back, the queen’s miscarriage, Pheris racing back with the earring sacrifice, Costis’s return to Attolia, Gen and Pheris’s pact to trust each other, the king assigning Relius to be Pheris’s tutor, Pheris finding the little box under the hedge, Costis riding pell mell to the palace to tell everyone that the Mede invasion had begun, Gen’s abdication of the throne, the gods healing Gen from the fight with the Eddisians, and more.
I also liked many smaller moments that took place then. Pheris’s initial relationship with Relius, Pheris getting his own horse, Pheris’s discover of the number 0 and all that could be done with it, the little poem written five hundred years earlier, Relius’s concern that Pheris might be assassinated.
More great little moments from that section: the queen’s decision to step down from her role as monarch, the debate about whether Costis should be allowed to go back to save Kamet, Relius’s request that Pheris observe in his absence and send Relius letters about what he sees, Gen’s discussion with the Magus about whether he would keep his second hand if he could. Gen tossing a grape at Sophos when Sophos teased him. The race though the palace in a game of tag on the eve of war. Even the way Pheris acquires parchment.
Also, going through the book to jog my memory just now, I realized that the moment when Pheris shows Teleus that Relius took the book of poems with him comes because it was the first time Pheris recognized that the relationship between Relius and Teleus was more than mere friendship. That Teleus must have been the person who gave Relius the book that Relius described as being given by someone who loved him very much. I didn’t catch that the first time. I want to go back to reading The King of Attolia now with attention to that aspect of Relius and Teleus’s relationship now that I see it as romantic.
I agree about the “trial”—it was too much like the fight with the Attolian guard in The KIng of Attolia and IMO not as triumphant so therefore not as satisfying. But I loved the moment between Attolia and Gen’s father that resulted from it, and as mentioned above, how the gods’ miraculous healing of Gen from the injuries he got, as well as how that shook Gen. I liked it when Pheris bit Aulus’s hand, too. And the conversation between Gen and his father after his father carried him to his bed.
I think the tattoos were mainly in the story as a symbol of the questions that hung over Gen’s reign in some of the Eddisian’s minds and of Gen’s killing in his youth. The math I just took to be something that fleshed out Pheris’s character and showed how intelligent he was. And also as a lovely aspect of Pheris’s relationships with Relius the Magus. What a gift Relius had given him in the number zero, and the same with the Magus with the Pythagorean theorem.
@Janine – thanks for such a detailed reply!! You’ve really captured many of the beautiful little moments in the middle of the book. And I did enjoy those little scenes between Gen, Irene, Sophos, and Helen a lot too, seeing how they interacted as friends outside the pressures of being rulers. And the scenes of Gen interacting with Pheris. And the scenes of Pheris learning different things. I loved the chase scene (it’s reminiscent of a Dorothy Dunnett scene, I’ve been wondering if it was a reference). They were all *good* scenes, fun to read, but…there were a lot of them back to back and I lost the thread of the story?
I’m still mulling over what exactly I felt was missing, and the best I can say so far is that there wasn’t an overarching mystery or plot that everything was driving towards. Or maybe, it was too obvious: the Medes would attack and be defeated, it was just a matter of how and where.
Comparing this to the earlier books, there was always some driving question:
The Thief – who is Gen, really?
QoA – who can Gen be without a hand?
KoA – can Gen be a king?
CoK – can Sophos be a king?
TaT – why does Gen want Kamet?
But I’m not sure what was driving this book beyond “how will it all end up?” I was also sad that there weren’t any myths in this book. Those usually helped tie together or make meaning of the larger question/mystery/plot of each book.
Regarding the twists — I did figure out in advance a) the greater powers had abandoned them (I guessed it when the Braeling ambassador came back with some story about “the winds have shifted” but I was certain when he was the one who suggested Gen go “check on the sentries” and then was attacked); b) the thought from the prophecy was in Pheris’s head, not Sejanus’s head (although not which specific thought); c) Pheris planning to ditch Sejanus. I suppose I didn’t guess that Gen was funding the dissenters, but as you say it wasn’t particularly convincing as a plan.
The thing that shocked me most was the part about the Eddisian council wanting to have Gen killed earlier…which is kind of a twist, psychologically if not in the plot itself.
Two other questions that occurred to me:
1) What was the meaning behind Helen’s dreams about the mountain erupting and why did they disappear suddenly? I had been expecting the mountain eruption to be a major part of this book, and then it just quietly disappeared. I had imagined that maybe the mountain eruption would be how the gods helped them defeat the Medes or something…
2) What does the title of the book mean? I felt Gen acted less like a thief in this book than in any of the others. He didn’t steal anything particularly notable compared to the others where he stole the gift, the queen, the crown, another country, and Kamet. In what way did he return?
I disagree. With The Thief, the first time I read it, I didn’t see anything mysterious about Gen—I took the book as straightforward, that Gen was a common thief taken from a prison to steal something for the Magus. For that reason the twist at the end came totally out of left field the first time I read the book and I found that jarring. For me, the central question in The Thief was “What is the object Gen is to steal and why is it so important to get it?”
Similarly, in Thick as Thieves, though I guessed that Kamet was being stolen, I didn’t dwell much on why. That was not an important question to me. The question for me was “How will Kamet and Costis’s friendship affect their loyalties?” And that was not as strong a narrative question as “Who can Gen be without this hand?”
(I agree the latter was the thematic question in The Queen of Attolia. Ditto “Can Sophos be a King?” I agree that was the central thematic question in A Conspiracy of Kings.)
Whether Gen could be a king was not a question I ever asked; I was certain he could from the beginning. It was obvious because he was the hero of the series. If there was a question in The KIng of Attolia then for me it was “What is Gen up to?”
And I disagree that there is no overarching story question in Return of the Thief. For me the most central question in the book was “Is Pheris trustworthy, even in his own eyes?” To me it is the internal conflict is most powerful here, not so much how Gen sees Pheris as how Pheris sees himself in terms of the question of his loyalty. That is the strongest driver in the book.
But also—RotT is divided into two books for a reason. While they both deal with the question of whether Pheris is truly trustworthy, even in his own eyes, they each have an important sub-question. The first book’s is “What kind of life can Pheris develop in the palace?” And the second book’s question is “How can the underdog Little Peninsula defeat the Mede Empire?”
I didn’t guess the Braeling thing.
Yes, I agree the thoughts on the prophecy about “the tongueless one” were in Pheris’s head, I saw it that way too. What seemed twisty to me in there was that I bought that by “tongueless” the gods were referring to Pheris and suggesting something about him, when really Gen was being warned about a geographic spot instead.
When I said Pheris’s plan for Sejanus was a twist I did not mean Pheris’s plan to ditch him. I was referring to Pheris’s plan to kill Sejanus (his own uncle) by pushing him down the mountain. Or is that what you meant by ditch?
Re your questions, here’s what I thought.
1) Helen’s dream still pertained to the volcano. She dreamed that the streets of Eddis were empty. I took that to mean that between (A) the new (now that the their monarchs were married) ease of relocating from Eddis to Sounis, (B) the thinning out of the population due to the war, and (C) the acquisition of new land that Gen conquered, it was feasible for the Eddisians to be evacuated. The gods were signaling to Eddis that she would be successful in that goal and that by the time the volcano blew, no one would be left in Eddis to be killed.
I also expected the volcano to blow its top in this book. It was even on the cover! At first I thought the Medes might be defeated by the volcano. After thinking it over, though, I was glad that the volcano didn’t blow in the book. It would have been overkill and would have made the denouement too stuffed with events. There was a lot going on there as it was. And it would not have served the central question about Pheris either.
2) As far as the title of the book, I felt that there was a theme in the book that Gen was in danger of turning into the Thief in a new and terrifying way. This was most powerfully portrayed in what Gen said to the Braeling ambassador after discovering that country’s treachery:
In describing in detail the bedchamber of the king of the Braelings, Gen was making it clear that he had been there himself. That he had snuck in there and roamed that palace in the night as he used to do to Attolia and Sounis when those countries were enemies (more or less) of Eddis and he was Eddis’s Thief.
If you recall, the fear of him in The Queen of Attolia was exactly this—that he would kill the monarchs under cover of night because this was one of the roles that the Thief could and would play if necessary. There was a reference to this In The King of Attolia also—Eddis told the Magus that Thieves could, if they deemed it necessary, depose even the Kings of Eddis by murdering them in the night while they slept. That it had happened in the past. This, more than anything else, was the reason Attolia cut off his hand. She took the gift of the earrings he had left her as a threat to kill her.
So when Gen said that the Braeling had better pray that he never survived as a man without a crown, he was letting him know that if that happened, even he, Fordad, would get his throat slit in the dark. Because then there would be no forgiveness or quarter left in Gen to give and he would live only to kill.
Additionally, this conversation takes place in the section when Gen is merged with that other Eugenides, the god of thieves. That Eugenides is also a thief, and his merging with Gen puts the full force of the power of the gods behind Gen’s vow. It could be said, therefore, that the title of the book refers to Eugenides the god as well as to Gen.
To a lesser extent, the title may also be a reference to Gen’s brief abdication of the crown earlier in the book and (as a marketing strategy) a reference to his greater presence in this book than in the last two. But I feel that the title is at least as much about the prospect of the Thief’s return putting the fear of god into several people. Into Irene, clearly, because she worries that she’ll lose her husband to a transformation into someone who is only half human at best, and half vengeful deity as well—a thief of lives and not just gems.
On reflecting on what I wrote above, I see that two of the otherwise cryptic sections of the book, the Eddisian council’s decision to eliminate Gen before the events of The Thief and the story of how Gen earned his tattoo, both tie to this same theme of Thief=assassin. And ditto when Sejanus will not tell him which of his barons betrayed him.
Pheris plan was to free sejanus to escape right? I didn’t think he planned to kill him.
I never thought Pheris meant to kill Sejanus. He thinks Sejanus is treacherous, but also he was kind to Pheris, and I think Pheris (rightly) values kindness.
I also never thought the true meaning of the prophecy was a twist. Laden was clearly unreliable, and prophecies are notoriously so. “No man of woman born” can kill Macbeth. If the king of Lydia goes to war, he’ll destroy a great kingdom. You can’t take prophesies at face value, ever.
Whether Pheris was trustworthy also didn’t seem like an issue to me. His tone from the beginning is that of a mature, wise person, and he says at the outset he’s Erondites, and pretty early that he’s writing the history of the “great king” — I just never doubted that he and Gen were going to come out of this okay and on the same side.
@Janine: I think we have different ideas of what constitutes a twist. To me it is something that has been there all along, but the reader didn’t know it. Gen’s being the Thief of Eddie and not just a common thief is a prototypical example. That he intends to marry Irene is another one, though less the ideal example. I think the situation in The King of Attolia is more dramatic irony than twist — we know what Gen is, even though Costis doesn’t. Here, I think the revelation that the Great Powers fear Gen more than the Mede is a twist, but the other stuff is just plot points.
That’s how I read it. Here are some outtakes from the relevant scene. I will bold the parts that pointed me to my interpretation:
It seems clear to me that Pheris had planned to kill Sejanus and die in the process. In the above metaphor, Pheris is the pawn, the sacrifice to eliminate the knight (Sejanus).
@Etv13: My interpretation was that Pheris absolutely planned to kill Sejanus and to die himself and that it was Sejanus kindness and remorse that made him step back from his plan. And to me this whole scene hinged on the loyalty theme. Of course, *I* knew that Pheris would be loyal. But Pheris himself did not know.
Pheris chose loyalty to Gen by leading Sejanus to his death. At great personal cost—he was certain it would cost him his life and also cost him emotionally *because* he had always liked Sejanus and Sejanus had been kind to him. But he was doing it out of loyalty to Gen and as a way to protect both Gen and Attolia (the country) from the consequences of Gen’s own actions. And he did this even though he knew that when his actions were discovered, Gen would see his choice as a betrayal.
If you think back through the whole book and ask yourself what mattered to Pheris more than anything throughout the book, it was Gen’s approbation and trust. And if you take that as a given, then it follows that Pheris’s greatest fears are tied to that — fears that he is not worthy of Gen’s trust (which begin immediately after he tells Juridius about the grain wagons), fears that he doesn’t deserve Gen’s trust (as we see him feel when Gen suggests they make a pact to trust each other in the future). Fears that the message in Gen’s nightmare, “Your greatest danger will come from the tongueless one, if you allow it,” is a reference to himself (even after Gen figures out the tongueless didn’t mean Pheris, Pheris isn’t sure that’s true).
And these all come to bear when he has to decide what to do about Sejanus:
And all these fears lead to his climb with Sejanus. The conflict inherent in betraying Gen so as to save the kingdom and save Gen from the repercussions of his (Gen’s) own actions is in some ways a bigger sacrifice for Pheris than the thought of dying. And there’s also betraying Sejanus’s trust—and that his (Pheris’s) last act would make him an Erondites to the end, a liar to the end, a monster to the end.
And after he does all that and Gen learns of it by seeing his note, he expects Gen to kill him instead of trusting him to know what to do with Sejanus. And even there you have the trust theme:
And in the next scene, we have this:
@Etv13: Re the definition of twists, that’s fair. But you see I did take some of these at face value. I thought that tongueless meant Pheris until I found out otherwise, I expected the Greater Powers to hold their alliance with Gen (it seemed a given after their attack on the Mede port) and was surprised that this double cross plan had been there all along. Ditto with the Eddisian agitation against Gen—I never dreamed he was behind it (though as I said, that was less effective for me). To a reader who had these worked out they would not have been twists but they were to me. As for the others I mentioned—yes, you’re right.
@Etv13 and @Min – I agree that I never thought Pheris meant to kill Sejanus, I thought he meant to help him escape all along. I thought the twist was that he was making Sejanus (and maybe the reader) believe he was leaving with Sejanus and then tricked Sejanus by going back to the king.
However…[email protected] you make a compelling point and the line about the pawn and the knight makes far more sense if I believe that Pheris did mean to sacrifice himself. Really missed that the first time!!
@Janine – Reading back through your comments about the “driving questions” of the books, I think you captured what I was trying to get at when you said an important question was “what is Gen up to?” I think you were referring to KOA, but actually, I think that question can apply to all the books…except this last one. Even in the books where he is off stage for much of the story (COK and TAT), it’s Gen’s plotting and scheming that is driving the story AND which causes the largest and most surprising twists. Perhaps I found the book slow in the middle because when I wondered “what is Gen up to?” the answer was…not much.
So I think when I say there weren’t twists, what I mean is: Gen didn’t cause any twists. He didn’t have anything up his sleeve, he wasn’t plotting or scheming. He wasn’t “being the thief” in the way that I had come to expect by tricking everyone and stealing something cleverly.
And this, then, ties into your interpretation of the title, which I think is really interesting and connects to the main theme that is there and which I may be trying to avoid because I don’t like it: that the “thief” persona is dangerous and has a dark side. I do see that the hints about this were in earlier books, and I definitely knew that Gen had a dark side, but I didn’t connect it with his role as the thief before, more just as his personality.
I think I am mourning the loss of the thief as I had imagined him (the persona, I mean, not Gen particularly). The thief in this book was dark and dangerous rather than clever and tricky and I miss my old understanding of it. I realize it’s a two-sided coin and they are both true, but it’s still a big shift of perspective.
Wow! I’ve glossed over so many of the references. But I’m glad I got Gen being an avatar for Eugenides. Probably because I’m already familiar of one such instance in Indian mythology. Parasurama the Brahmin sage was temporarily the 6th avatar of Vishnu. After slewing kings of the warrior Kshatriya caste all over India, he came back to his normal self. Coming back to Gen, he offered sacrifices to two deities at the end. The priest at one of the temples wonders why since his God and Gen’s God Eugenides are not generally at good terms. What made Gen choose that temple?
Re: Teleus disliking Gen. This is actually one of my very favorite fictional tropes, and one of the reasons why I was always really fascinated with Severus Snape. I like books that grapple with doing something that they think is right even though they’re temperamentally inclined to reject it. I like it partly because I think that base element of temperament doesn’t really change; you can impose your rational mind on it, but if you hate a certain type of person, that doesn’t really go away. To me, it’s one of the most interesting and satisfying internal conflicts.
Tara, I think that Gen was at that point making an offering on his father’s behalf, to the god that his father most inclined toward. It was a way of saying that despite all their differences, he loved and honored his father as he was–flaws and all.
@Kirsten Davis: Re Pheris’s agenda—yes and I think there are other hints, such as why does he keep checking to see how high they had climbed over and over? If your goal is get to the top of the mountain then it’s a lot better not to look down. But if your intention is to push another person with your own body to fall and die, then you need to be sure you are high enough then checking the height makes a lot more sense.
When he says “Instead of seizing the opportunity I had right in front of me, I trailed after him like the idiot he thought I was,” what opportunity is he referring to that he is not seizing?
Why does he think that maybe he is afraid of repeating his mistake with Emtis? His earlier description of what he’d done to Emtis, in the scene with Juridius, was this: “He was a grown man and I was a child, and eventually, driven to my wits’ end, I did something terrible. I became the monster people had called me all my life. Emtis lived, but he would never hurt me again,” and re Juridius,” He warned me to stay away from him or he would tell everyone what had caused our cousin’s accident.” Why is he thinking about the monstrous (to use his own words) thing he had done to Emtis, a thing that had looked like an accident, at this exact time? Why is he is afraid he’s doing something similar now? In what way is freeing Sejanus monstrous and similar to his Emtis mistake?
For that matter, what did he do to Emtis that could have ensured that Emtis, though alive, would never hurt anyone again? How could a small child harm an adult to such a degree?
And why does Sejanus, when Pheris signs “We are, all liars, all the Erondites,” think back “over the trail we had climbed, the narrow places, the ledges and the steep drops,” and realize how close to death they had both come? How do Pheris’s lies connect to a reframing of their climb?
How does Pheris’s statement that he plays chess, too, connect to that closeness to death by falling?
Re Gen, yes, I agree that Gen didn’t have a trap to spring in this book; he did not play the clever schemer who has a a card up his sleeve as he usually does. I minded that too but only a little.
I agree that the role of Thief comes off darker here than in some of the other books but I think it was hinted at more than once in the earlier books that it isn’t just Gen that has a dark side but also the role. For example, in The King of Attolia, there is this conversation that Gen has with Relius:
I think the reader’s perception of Gen and his role is meant to shift from book to book. Each book brings another facet of him to the table. He’s darker in QoA than in The Thief and darker in KoA than in QoA. My biggest change in perspective about the role of Thief happened when I read The Queen of Attolia. He and his role were so much darker in that than in The Thief,
I thought that Pheris had decided that his role, with Sejanus, was to stop Gen from becoming a monster. That he was considering the political implications of letting Gen cross a line that he’d yet to cross. His conclusion was that if Gen were allowed to proceed–and no one could stop him because the laws of the country, at that time, were very much on his side–the whole world would suffer. The worst thing that could happen to the Little Peninsula would be for Gen, who had the gods on his side, to become monstrous, in the moral sense. The downstream effects would be immense. It would change the course of history.
Pheris decided that he would solve the problem of Sejanus himself, saving the future at the expense of his personal treason. I think that he did consider killing Sejanus, but I don’t think that was ever his primary concern. I think his primary concern was that whatever happened to Sejanus, someone other than Gen would bear the stain of it.
I think that whatever Pheris had contemplated, Sejanus’s kindness on the way up convinced him not to kill Sejanus. He took the risk of letting Sejanus live.
@Tara: I had the same interpretation Erin did of Gen’s choice of temple and god.
@Erin Satie: That’s a great point about Teleus. I was jarred because it ran counter to how The King of Attolia ended. My reading of the last chapter was that Teleus had been completely won over by Gen, filled with respect and admiration. Maybe I read in that admiration and it wasn’t there? It led me to believe that Teleus’s emotions were toward Gen were a lot warmer.
I wrote a blog post about this but I’m reading some of these comments about whether THE RETURN OF THE THIEF had any twists and it’s reminding me of what struck me as the central conflict of the novel: that Gen (or anyone with the gods actually on their side) is basically unstoppable.
The plot reinforces this. The framing puts the narrator in the future, writing about events long past. He occasionally reminds us that everything’s going to turn out just fine, that he’s writing the history of the ‘Great King’. Gen keeps asking the gods, “How can I know I’m acting on your behalf? Where is the limit?” — and then they tell him, explicitly, with words. As long as Gen respects the limits they impose, he’s going to win every fight, every time.
How can there be a ‘twist’ when the outcome is foretold? How can there be suspense when victory is inevitable? The only conflict here is like–Gen is basically a nuclear bomb, do the people with their fingers on the button want to fire it? If so, where do they aim it? How do they contain the explosion and the fallout? And, I guess: who gets to put their fingers on that button?
@Erin Satie: I love your interpretation.
Re: Tongueless. I also initially assumed this was a reference to Pheris, but I don’t think this counts as a twist. To my mind, a ‘twist’ happens when the author has laid out all the pieces on the board, let the reader contemplate those pieces, and then moves them in a way that the reader could have predicted but did not expect.
The Sixth Sense is the usual reference point for a good twist and for a good reason: because the clues are all right in front of you, hidden in plain sight.
There is no way that a reader could intuit that Tongueless was the name of a place, and so there is no way for it to constitute a twist. If anything, I’d call that a bait and switch.
At this point in the series, it’s not much of a challenge for Eugenides to harvest the meat from Lades’s prophecy while avoiding the trap. He defuses it immediately and tells Pheris that he has nothing to worry about.
For Pheris, though, Eugenides’s trust makes his dilemma even more painful.
I know I’ve left a million comments now but I’m going to leave one more. Which is that there’s been some chatting here about how the people of Eddis considered killing Gen, how they considered a member of the royal family who was also a Thief to be, perhaps, too powerful. Too dangerous.
They’re right. Like, not just ‘they have a point’ right. They are 100% right. All of their worst fears came true and the outcome would have been very different–and probably more to their liking–if they’d been allowed to kill Gen as an adolescent.
By the end of RETURN, most of the royal family is dead. A large family. The remaining two are Gen and Helen. Helen says quite clearly that she expects to be the last Eddis and she engineers exactly the outcome that many Eddisians were afraid of: the country ceases to exist as an independent entity, it is subsumed into the unified Peninsula.
But there’s more! There’s a scene where the council of kings contemplates the enormity of the Mede assault, where Pheris notes that the most practical choice would be for Sounis and Eddis to abandon Attolia and retreat to their own borders. Pheris says, with great confidence, that if they’d made that choice both Eddis and Sounis would have survived as independent nations while Attolia most likely would not have.
Eddis and Sounis decide to stick with the alliance because of GEN. And we know these people–they’re not going to sacrifice the future of their countries because friendship is magic. It’s never just sunshine and rainbows and handholding with these books. Eddis and Sounis understand that the lynchpin of their alliance is a man who has the gods on his side, who is a flawed king but a superlative Thief.
The alliance would have failed without a royal Thief as the Annux. Eddis would still exist as an independent entity. All those Eddisians were totally right.
@Erin Satie: That’s an. Interesting idea, that Pheris wanted to kill Sejanus to save Gen from becoming completely ruthless. I think you are correct. When I read it I felt the same, though I didn’t articulate it as well as you did. Maybe that’s why Pheris also felt that saving Gen was also a betrayal, or at least that Gen would see it as a betrayal— that’s how I interpreted Pheris’s feelings. And when Gen trusts Pheris at the end, and does not press Sejanus, I think that also signals that Gen’s soul (for lack of a better word) has been saved.
I agree too that it was Sejanus’s kindness when they climbed (and probably also his remorse) that stayed Pheris’s hand.
@Erin Satie: I see your point about “Tongueless.” I concede to you and to Etv13, it’s more of a bait and switch.
Exactly—and I think this too is a theme because it happens not just here but at multiple points in the book.
@Erin Satie: That’s another great point, re the alliance council. It’s very plausible. You have to take into account, though, that Gen saved Eddis from losing the war to Attolia in QoA and saved Sounis from being overcome by the Medes in ACoK. But yes he has become darker in the process, too powerful, powerful to a scary degree. And I can see your suggestion that this made it a better choice to stick with Attolia than to abandon Gen. I didn’t notice that when I read the book so I’m thankful that you pointed it out.
And please, you and everyone else, comment as much as you want to! I appreciate everyone’s thoughts.
Erin’s comment reminds me to ask—how do you (general you) think the Little Peninsula will be governed after the Medes’ departure? I didn’t understand why they would still (after the victory against the Medes) need an Annux in the future as well as future individual country kings, and also how disputes between them would be settled in the future. Thoughts?
Doesn’t Pheris tell us that the three countries are united into a single entity? And this is just the origin story for the present situation, which has endured through his lifetime?
@Erin Satie: Does Pheris say that in his intro or other reflections? If so I forgot. I was hung up on the treaties the other monarchs and the Magus had to go back to negotiate near the end. Why would they need to negotiate if they aren’t supposed to continue ruling in some capacity? Also there’s the description of Gen and Irene’s son as a king even though the Annux is not intended to be a hereditary title. That implies that Gen’s son will be king of Attolia but not Annux, and since he’s a king, doesn’t that mean that he will still have a leadership role to play in the future? He’s younger than Pheris, so—has his reign over Attolia ended by the time Pheris writes his books?
@Janine: My understanding was that the monarchs left to hammer out the unification into a single country, whereby there would be a ruling council (still a council of kings/queens?) and then, additionally, a mechanism by which they would elect a new, non-hereditary, high king.
It sounds a little bit like a federation, to me, a coalition of semi-independent states like Italy has been at various times in its history (sorry if i’m misunderstanding italian history here) or maybe like the EU?
The chapter is pretty explicit with how it ends–I looked up the quote: “That is how, with his knees covered in mud, Eugenides united the three countries into one.”
I don’t think we know if Eugenides is still alive at the end. Only that his victories have been magnified and distorted as they become legend, because they’re the founding legends of this new, unified country.
@Janine – I definitely agree now that Pheris was planning to kill Sejanus based on the quotes you pointed out. But I also agree with @Erin Satie that the main reason behind it was to stop Gen from turning into a monster, which is perhaps why I originally missed the plan to kill Sejanus, I was focused on the need to get him away from Gen rather than get rid of him completely.
To conclude my thread of comments about how dark the thief character gets – I think I need to read the series from top to bottom now to get the whole picture straight in my head. Alas, what a sacrifice :-)
Regarding the question of why they need an Annux – I think it will be necessary to deal with the rest of the continent. They’ve pushed back the Medes, but they’ve realized no one else on the continent is on their side, so remaining united is important as they try to renegotiate their relationships with everyone else.
I think it’s clear that some form of local government will remain in each of the kingdoms (Gen says something like “our child will only rule over Attolia” to Irene and she agrees that will be enough), although it sounds like Eddis will disappear over time (Helen keeps saying she is the last Eddis).
Related to the question of unification – I read a comment on the Sounis livejournal that I *loved* where “hazelwillow” said they thought that interference from the gods throughout the books was moving the peninsular kingdoms to be united, not to protect them from the Medes, but so that the old culture and old religion (which has been kept only by the Eddisians since the peninsula was invaded) would again be spread across the whole peninsula. Hence why the Eddisians are being forced to move out of the mountains and integrate into the rest of the united country. I just love the idea that the real goal of it all was saving the culture and religion as opposed to just defending themselves.
@Erin Satie: Well, but what he says is “The treaty between Sounis and Eddis and Attolia cannot be fixed in one person, in one life as ephemeral as the rain in summer. There must be a charter of one law for everyone, with one council drawn from all three countries so that in future they may select a new high king, as they do in Sounis. We need an unbreakable union, and only you three can make it.”
I think that’s pretty clear that only the council (not the common people) can choose the high king, because that is what is done in Sounis (as we saw portrayed in A Conspiracy of KIngs). But then he says to Irene, “The right to be high king cannot be passed to our child.” And she says, “To be king or queen of Attolia is enough.”
So very clearly—there will be a high king that is not of Gen or Irene’s bloodline, yet their child will also be a king. And this is reinforced in the final chapter when Gen refers to Hector and Eugenia as “a king and his Thief.”
So I come back to my question—why does Attolia need its own lower king if the countries are all merging? And if there remain other monarchs in the Little Peninsula besides the high king, how will disputes between them be settled? Is it a system like we have here in the US, where each country is a state with its own governor but there is also a federal government that oversees them? That seems too modern for them, but if not that, what?
I agree that it’s impossible to know whether Gen is still alive when Pheris writes his histories. But it seems less likely to me that Eugenides and Hector would both be gone by then.
@Kirsten Davis: Yeah, I agree with Erin too that Pheris wanted to kill Sejanus to protect the king from becoming a monster. That is also why Sejanus himself did not want to reveal who the barons were who had conspired with him.
Rereading these is always a hardship. ;-)
That’s a great point about the Annux and unification being very important now that they are surrounded by enemy countries. I hadn’t thought of that but you are so right.
Re system of government, I agree. I was just wondering how that would function in reality. It doesn’t seem that workable to me, but if the threat from the countries outside the peninsula is so grave, as you point out, then I suppose there will be strong motivation to make it work and so it probably will.
On the topic of the gods’ motivation in all this, hazelwillow’s suggestion is a clever idea and it fits with Immakuk and Ennikar’s possible motives in TaT (that they may have favored Kamet for preserving their memory).
But then you have to ask why now and not before? The gods faded away for centuries while people in Attolia and Sounis replaced them with other deities and even in Eddis, most people did not believe in them. So what has activated them? I tend to think that Gen is what got their attention, personally. He is complex enough and interesting enough for that. And he has left sacrifices on their altars. I guess gods wouldn’t be gods if their motives weren’t be at least somewhat inscrutable.
I agree with basically everything Kristen Davis said in her 7:58 comment — including being convinced that Pheris had contemplated killing Sejanus, although I also believe he didn’t need to do that to achieve his goal of saving Gen from himself. On that point, though, it’s not just that Gen’s becoming a monster would be bad for his soul, but that it would send the country back down the same path it was on under Irene, with the ruler not trusting anyone and therefore untrustworthy himself. (Here’s that theme of trust again.)
As to the future of the country/countries, I think Helen is the last Eddis for two overlapping reasons: 1) that volcano is going to blow and Eddie will become, at least temporarily, largely uninhabitable; and 2) Helen and Sophos’s kid is going to be the heir to both countries and with Eddis largely depopulated, it makes sense that Sounis would be the overwhelmingly dominant title and position, kind of like the way we refer to the Queen of England when she’s really queen of more than that. (Yes, I know, council, but Sophos’s uncle was able to get his bastard half brother’s son as his heir, so the odds are good Sophos can get his own legitimate kid as his heir, too. )
(Man, autocorrect can be annoying sometimes!)
@Etv13: I agree with both your points. The fate of Attolia under a ruthless and vengeful Gen was a big consideration in Pheris’s decision. It came up more than once that this was on the line. And yeah, Sounis will essentially subsume Eddis. And it may not even upset the populace in their countries that much given (A) the volcano, (B) the land grants, and (C) that Helen and Sophos’s child will inherit and that this child will be heir to both monarchies.
Did anyone else wonder how Helen and Sophos have been managing their marriage from such a distance? Did they build themselves another palace on the border? The distance from Sounis’s capital to Eddis’s (where Sophos reunited with his mother and sisters) took at least a day or two to traverse in A Conspiracy of Kings. And I would think they’d both need to be in their capitals to be able to rule. A long-distance relationship in the days of carts and horseback riding as the main means of transportation can’t be that easy to conduct.
Elizabeth I traveled all around the country leaving what must have been a trail of filthy houses in her wake, and James VI and I managed to rule Scotland from England (as did every monarch of the two kingdoms since), so I imagine Sophos and Helen could manage without being in their capitals all the time, too.
@Etv13: You’re right of course. But not a great long-term arrangement.
I had the exact interpretation of teleus admiration towards Gen at the end of KOA.. infact he even says gen wont just be a king he will.be annux one day. I was not happy to read teleus didnt like gen in this book. Or maybe that’s pheris’ (mis) understanding?
Personal feelings aside teleus is said to be extremely honest so maybe pheris has seen him disagree with king’s methods and drew that conclusion? Also like costis teleus is described to be very stoic person lacking sense of humor.
I have another question for the group. In both The Queen of Attolia and here, Gen is said to be silent under torture — at least until he decides to act like they’re hurting him more than they are, which I take to be his way to convince him he’s not tricking them by signing that surrender. Does his silence have something to do with being the Thief, or is it just extreme stoicism on his part? Training in disassociating from the pain, or the god’s intervention?
My take on the torture is that he was determined to hold out until he had useful information. Because he wasn’t breaking from the violence, his torturers eventually decided that they would try other means–by taunting him with how hopeless his situation was, and how suffering in silence wouldn’t help. Once he had the information he needed, then he switched tracks and broke quickly.
As for how and why? As I was reading I assumed that he’d had some sort of training in withstanding torture, or practice, but I don’t know why I’d think that really. Probably from watching bad action movies.
@Min: Yeah. I need to reread The King of Attolia sometime (I want to anyway because when I read it in the past I didn’t realize that Teleus and Relius were romantically involved). Teleus’s admiration of Gen at the end was reluctant and Gen was going to cut the number of guards in half, but I associate admiration very strongly with warm emotions so I thought Teleus was won over.
@Janine: were teleus and relius romantically involved during KOA? Or is that a recent development? Even though they may have had deep friendship always. Or do they have an open relationship? There is lot of mention of relius’ string of affairs.. with teleus the loyal one
@Min: I think it must be an open relationship since RotT suggests that they are in love. Relius tells Pheris that the book of poems Teleus gave him was given to him by someone who loves him very much, and he takes the book with him on his travels. That suggests a strong attachment. But it’s also mentioned that Relius has a revolving door of lovers at the same time.
In KoA Relius got arrested because he shared confidential information with a lover and it led to the deaths or injuries of Attolian spies working within the Mede Empire. He and Teleus are very close in the book but Teleus is furious over Relius’s betrayal of the queen. Later, when Gen goes down to the prison to free Relius, Teleus can’t believe it isn’t some dark trick that Gen is playing and he yells at Gen. All of that suggests strong feelings. In my earlier readings of KoA I assumed they were very close friends but now (after reading RotT) I think they must have been lovers. It’s very much open to reader interpretation though.
I’m a bit confused about Costis and Kamet because where does Aristogaton fit in?
@Etv13: I think that in The Queen of Attolia it was stubbornness and stoicism that that kept Gen from screaming when he was tortured. When she was about to cut off his hand he did beg her not to. And afterward, in the privacy of his cell, he recited the invocation of the great goddess Hephestia from the harvest festival, calling on her for mercy (and justice, maybe?).
After he is sliced in the assassination attempt in The King of Attolia Gen whines and screams as the physician patches him up. But as soon as Irene faints he stops, and it becomes clear that he was only crying out so that Irene would think he wasn’t that hurt. After she loses consciousness his stoicism comes out. So I think stoicism is just a part of his personality. When it comes to something important, that is. I believe he also yelled when he was being beaten in The Thief.
Late to the party due to internet issues, but I absolutely thought that Pheris was at least open to the idea of killing Sejanus, and that his motivation was to save Gen from himself. It was one of the things that made Sejanus’ arc so poignant for me; he was saved (barely) by Pheris’ judgment, and ended up dying anyway.
@Jennie: Good point. I loved the tension in that climbing scene, seeing Pheris’s conflict and how he ultimately drew back from his intention to kill Sejanus as Sejanus revealed some thoughtfulness and kindness and shared the story of his late brother with Pheris, too.
Loved reading all this discussion!
@Janine – It is an interesting question why the gods would not have intervened before now, and I think you are right that it has to do with Gen. My impression is that they can’t or won’t interfere without working through people and events that are already there, so they would have waited to find a person and situation that would serve their needs. I think the combination of Gen and the Medes offered them an opportunity.
@Etv13 – I agree with @Janine that stoicism is Gen’s typical response. If he is responding a different way there is a reason and he is trying to get something or hide something (e.g., hide his pain from Irene in KOA).
I’m still a little confused about what happened with Pheris and Emtis — what is the horrible thing that Pheris did? Teleus seems unsure of his relationship with Relius until Pheris points out that Relius took the book of poetry. Maybe they’re a new item? Or they’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship for a while. I liked all the ways this book echoed the ones before (my many rereads of the previous books helped), though I was also a little disappointed by the trial of the king. I also thought it was really sweet how Turner finally revealed the Minister of War’s name. If there’s one thing I’m a little sad about, it is the much darker tone of the book. The Queen of Attolia was much darker than The Thief but that made sense. But we learn so many worrying things here that were never really hinted at earlier. I always had the impression that the Minister of War sent Gen to find Hamiathes Gift because Sounis was undermining Eddis and not in order to save Gen’s life. I also thought the first man Gen killed was in The Thief; the fact that he was a child came as a complete shock. I still can’t really get over it. And it was always hinted that the thief of Eddis could be dark but certainly not as dark as this. I find it really interesting that Turner never specifies the age of her characters. One on hand, it’s really clever because her characters don’t have to age as much. On the other, I find it slightly confusing. But overall, I’m happy with this read.
@AMD: I generally agree that the gods don’t interfere much but I can think of a couple instances where they did–Moira told Irene how to lay a trap for and catch Gen early in The Queen of Attolia and now in Return of the Thief we have the furious goddess (Hephestia, I would guess) barring Gen from sending Pheris away. And there’s the Gen / god of thieves merge. I think you’re right though that there’s only so much they can do and they have to wait for the right person to work their actions through.
I just remembered that there’s a short story that hints at that. I went looking for it. It’s in the back of my 2006 print copy of The King of Attolia and it’s titled Eddis. The bare bones of the story is that Helen, as a child, gets lost and takes shelter at a dilapidated temple. A few gods are conversing there–Moira, Eugenides, and Periphys (sp?) who is Moira’s mother. They talk about Helen and mention that she isn’t Eddis yet, and one of them, (Eugenides, I think) says something like “But her Thief was just born, wasn’t he?” and Moira says “Four years ago.” Helen is puzzled by the conversation; the Thief in their court is an old man and her brother will be Eddis, not her. There’s more to the story than this but late in the story the gods take her memory of that day away and she doesn’t remember it again until after her coronation. My point is that their awareness of Gen’s birth may suggest that they were indeed waiting for him.
@AMD: I think we’re only supposed to guess at what Pheris did to Emtis. My guess is that he pushed him off a ledge or a hill or something.
Emtis was severely disabled but was not dead, and Pheris’s frequent checking of how high he and Sejanus had climbed suggests that he may have done this before. Pheris was a child when that event took place and Emtis a grown man; there aren’t really many other ways that Pheris could have done physical damage to Emtis. I suppose he could have administered poison but it doesn’t seem in his style and he’d have to be tricky to get it done. Esp since he was never invited to sit at the dinner table. And he was never suspected by anyone other than Juridius, so it must have been something that looked like an accident.
ETA: Interesting that more than one person here has had difficulty with the tone. I didn’t. Because Pheris was the narrator and had his own arc, and the book ended with him in a much happier and better place than he had been, I saw it as upbeat overall. The rooftop dancing at the end was a marvelous way to end the book, happy and celebratory. If anything I would have liked one or two more shadows in the story–I wanted to see Gen process the deaths of his father and his favorite brother and we didn’t really get that. But that’s a pattern in the series; several of his relatives (and Helen’s) died in the war with Attolia, and there wasn’t a lot about that either.
Janine, I also really liked the ending with the dancing on the roof. I know Emma Barry has commented that the ending felt too pat, and it did to me as well–partly because I think that when you have a series about the complications of power, and in particular how wielding power pushes people do to awful things whether or not that’s their inclination, the idea that you would have a bunch of friends amicably wielding power felt a bit like a betrayal of the whole series. I mean, we knew these characters and how it happened and the plot was fundamentally about bringing them together, so it wasn’t just thrown in there to tie everything into a bow, and I like happy endings, so I don’t want to complain too much on that count. But I had a sense of deep unease as the book ended.
The dancing on the roof undercut that a bit–because the literal presence of the gods underscored to me that this was partly a series about living in a world where deities are present, involved in human affairs, trying to exert their will through people. It summarized a different aspect of the book in a way that felt clarifying and triumphant.
@Erin Satie: Yeah, I agreed with Emma’s statement about the ending being pat also. I think that’s connected to why I wanted a bit more from Gen about the loss of his father. But you’re right that the last scene helped, and I didn’t even think of that. And it was such a joyous scene, and so magical, in both the literal and the figurative senses.
You know something else that I was a bit uneasy about at the end–Gen’s future. I can’t picture him at a peaceful and prosperous time; it’s hard to imagine him not in the middle of some intrigue and / or conundrum. Creative problem solving is a huge part of his personality. And he doesn’t like to govern, and the short story about the earring tells us that he leaves that largely to Irene, though he does observe sharply. It’s hard to picture him just doing that. But I suppose he will also be training Eugenia as his grandfather trained him, and that I can picture him doing.
@Janine – I agree that the gods interfere at different points, but I think they only choose to nudge people toward their desired ends rather than completely taking over. For example, they don’t seem to possess people much like we see at the very end with Gen. Most they are sending cryptic messages (like the prophecy) or very specific but limited instructions (like with Irene catching Gen). I haven’t ever read the short story you mentioned, I’ll have to look for it!
@AMD – I agree that the tone felt a darker, especially regarding the character of the thief and what that persona really is and does. I was surprised by this and didn’t enjoy it particularly, although I think it was hinted at in earlier books (especially the Queen of Attolia). I was also shocked by the fact that Gen’s father sent him away to save Gen’s life – that was probably the biggest surprise in the whole book for me.
@Janine again – I agree that the ending seemed a bit pat, especially given that although they defeated the Medes, they now have the rest of the continent to deal with who just betrayed them. I imagine that will keep Gen busy for a little bit, but I agree that it’s hard to imagine him during an actually peaceful time.
@Kirsten Davis: Agreed on the gods. The bit about Gen’s father sending him away to save his life get me a jolt. It was unexpected. And re. the continental powers–good point. I don’t know that they’d necessarily want a war with the peninsula but relations between them and the countries to the north will certainly be chilly.
I think the meaning of the dreams fading is connected to the fact the final book sets up a way for Eddis to empty the country and move their citizens to safety. At the end, Eugenides says he will create a unified government and provide land grants to Eddisians who fought in the Mede war. Eddis acknowledges that this will empty out her country as people take advantage of opportunities outside of the mountains.
@Erin Satie: @Tara, @Erin Satie, re Gen’s gift of his father’s helmet. The temple was dedicated to that area’s version of the Sky God. Earlier, when Gen goes to treat with the enemy and calls out Erondities, the lightening that strikes the tent in which he is hiding and kills him is clearly an act directed by Eugenides the god. But the lightening bolts belong to the Sky God. Forgive my lack of specifics; I’ve got the books on audio and it’s impossible to flip back for references.
@Janine: @Kirsten Davis. Regarding how involved the gods are. While all of the books are centered hard on Gen, I read them all with the backdrop that the gods, Eugenides in particular, have an active interest in all of this, and are the ones who set all of this in motion. Eddis still has Thieves. They have temples to Eugenides, they name their children after him; and the entire country is going to be destroyed by that volcano. Gen becoming Annux give the Eddesians a place to go before the disaster. EVERYthing is set up to allow that ending.
There is a bonus story at the end of the audio version: Alyta’s Missing Earring. Did y’all get that in the print copy? In part of it the god of thieves is chatting with the three fates, and when she isn’t looking he jacks with the weaving that one of them is doing. She scolds him for the change but he tells her “doesn’t it look better?” And she grudgingly agrees. I assumed it was Gen’s story he was changing, to precipitate the salvation of his people.
I think the gods get involved at times such as when Eugenides tells Gen to take Hamithes’ gift in the temple in The Thief, or when Moira tells Attolia how to catch Gen and Nahuseresh where to find Attolia. And other examples of when they make an appearance. I personally am not as fond of the “stop whining” and “go to bed” instructions—it takes some mystery and significance away from the gods for me.
Those lines do argue for a very close involvement with Gen but I prefer to think there is a lot they don’t orchestrate because otherwise the characters don’t have free will. As Moira says at the end of “Alyta’s Missing Earring,” Irene had the choice about whether to love Gen:
@Gael: I think that’s a smart take on what happened with the helmet.
I really like the idea that much of the series is about the gods of Eddis ensuring their own survival, by cleverly manipulating events so that the population can migrate without simply abandoning their beliefs. I think that’s a really clever take and that the author has definitely left room for it.
With regards to the story of Alyta’s missing earring, I think the sequence of events is actually spelled out pretty clearly and the most obvious reading is pretty narrow and specific. First Alyta loses her earring and asks the god Eugenides to retrieve it. Then the god pesters the fates a bit, saying that he’s avoiding Alyta’s task. But that can’t be true because actually, young human Gen carries out that task without quite understanding his own motivations–he’s clearly been guided by his god.
Young Gen returns the earring and has an encounter with Alyta herself in the temple, where Alyta promises him “his heart’s desire” in exchange for his favor. Older Gen realizes, when Irene tells him this story, that he was in fact given his heart’s desire–Irene. And then he goes to the temple because he feels really guilty; he wonders if Irene was deprived of her free will, and if they’re only married because the Alyta made it happen and not because Irene wanted to marry him.
Moira shows up to explain that no, Gen doesn’t need to worry about Irene’s free will because Alyta made such a small change to the workings of the fates–“only two threads brought together, two threads that touched… Nothing more than that. And everything else left up to you.” Which explains that little “twist” Eugenides the god orchestrated during that sequence with the fates; he was bringing the threads of Gen and Irene’s lives together. The only uncertainty is what the god Eugenides was lying about–either he the task was already done or he was anticipating the rewards.
@Erin Satie & @Gael: I agree about the helmet and I agree on most of Erin’s interpretation of the story. I didn’t see Gen’s decision to return the earring as made for him by the god of thieves, though. I’d like to think that Gen felt a connection the earring and through it to Alyta and that it was his sympathy for her, which surged when he heard the men in the tavern, that made him dedicate it.
This paragraph ETA: When I read the story I thought that his sympathy was the unidentified factor in his decision to dedicate the earring and I still give that interpretation some weight. That fits with his character too, especially early on — as he tells Irene in book three, is not (or at least does not see himself as) kind. And this is an act of kindness, and since he doesn’t think he’s kind, he doesn’t identify it as such.
Of course that doesn’t answer the question of why her temple and not another god’s. Gen’s grandfather may be merely suggesting this because the name Alyta brings it to mind or else the god guides him to do that. I would like to think though that the god didn’t guide Gen and his grandfather beyond guiding Gen to eavesdrop at the tavern turning them in that particular temple’s direction. In the same way that Irene had free will as to whether to love Gen after the gods brought them in contact, Gen likely had free will as to whether or not to keep the earring. Perhaps all the god did was put Gen and his grandfather in the path of the boasting men.
More interesting to me is Attolia’s sharing of the myth with Gen. For it to be a myth it can’t be that new so I wonder if it’s because the gods exist outside of time (and that’s implied in the “Eddis” short story as well as in this one)—if they introduced that story in such a way that it became timeless, or if they backtracked it to an older era.
These two possibilities suggest that there are two timelines—the one where Gen stole and returned the earring, thus leading to the myth, and the one in which the myth was ancient. And if so, that may be why Gen did not remember his theft of that earring and his dedication of it to Alyta until Irene mentioned it to him—because it happened to a slightly different Gen than to him, a Gen that existed before the myth.
@Gael and @Erin Satie – I think I jumped right over the bit about Eugenides messing with the threads in the weaving, but I love the idea that this is him bringing Irene and Gen together, I think that ends up being a significant step that leads to saving the old culture and traditions, after Irene chooses to love Gen and then Attolia starts to move back towards the old religion.
@Kirsten Davis: I agree.
Please tell me I wasn’t the only one confused throughout the book. Could anyone just give a summary of what happened? Long or short. I am confused. Lol. My favorite part was probably when the babies were born though. So cute!
@Claire Bailey: Have you read though this thread? A lot of points of confusion were clarified in the discussion.
Our review summarizes the first third so start there:
Read it through, read this thread, and if there’s still something you’re confused about at the end of all that I’ll do my best to explain, theorize and / or post a summary.
I also thought of Claudius.
@Janine: I too, felt like each book revealed more about Gen. I think every person has the ability to become something terrible and in the last book we see that part of him. It was hinted at earlier in the series, and here he is fleshed out and we see the darker aspects that were always there. It’s a long process of learning his character across the books and this made him more realistic as a person, fantasy elements aside.
@Ann Masters: Good point about how this edgier aspect makes Gen more realistic as a person. I would say that in some ways, yes, but in others (his ability to merge with the god and call down lighting on Erondites) is an example of the latter. I love how each book shows different facets of Gen. When I read the first book I took him totally at face value and by the end of book three he had become one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read about in YA fiction. Probably the most fascinating.
One thing I loved in The Return of the Thief was that we saw Gen’s approach to guardianship and therefore what kind of father he would make to his kids. It’s not an aspect we had seen before and it was warm—a counterpoint, perhaps, to the dark side that you mention and that was more fully embodied here than in the earlier books.
Hollywood Reporter reports that the rights to The Thief have been picked up by Disney. I will definitely go see it (if movie theaters are safe by then; if not I’ll watch from home) but I agree with the commenter Nageler on Tor.com who said:
Re: Gen is still alive when Pheris writes his histories – because he is sneaking in and correcting Pheris’s manuscript as he writes it.
Re: the council voting to kill Gen – one of the underpinnings of their worry about Gen is that Helen may in fact be Hector’s daughter, and she’s queen with his support, and that it is very possible that Gen is the king’s bastard. If he is the Thief AND a direct male heir, he’s even more of a threat.
I didn’t pick up on either of these things. Was it mentioned that Gen edited Pheris’s memoir? I seem to recall something about editing but I didn’t remember Gen was behind it.
Also can you refresh me on where it’s stated that Helen may be Hector’s child and Gen the king’s? My memory on this is fuzzy. Hector and the former Eddis sound like wife-swapping swingers. That is…an interesting brotherly relationship.
In the epilogue of RotT right before the two threads brought together comment, Moira quietly tells Gen, “Ask yourself Eugenides: why that orange tree? Why that tamarisk bush? She (Alyta) had promised you your heart’s desire while a child of hers was alone in the world and unhappy.” Does anyone remember the incidents with the orange tree and the tamarisk bush she is referring to from previous stories? I can’t quite place them.
I thought the first half of the Return of the Thief was slow, having to tie so many old threads together, and bringing back every major character if only fleetingly, and introducing new ones. I wanted more interaction between Gen and the other dear characters. Instead I got an entirely new narrator and narration of palace life with new attendants I never got a chance to know or care about.
In the previous two books I loved the new characters but what I really wanted was more Gen. And now, we get more Gen, which I love!, but I find I missed the other characters who were present in this book in name only. I could not even sense Sophos’ personality.
I never really grew to love Pheris as I did Sophos, Costis and Kamut. I didn’t feel like Eugenides’ attachment to him was explained or earned. So when Attolia says “Where the king gives his heart, he gives it completely” I loved that. I understood that is one of the main reasons Gen is so loved despite his dark side. I understood he gave his heart completely to Attolia. I understood he gave his heart to his friends, which is why they can trust him during dangerous times. I did not understand his giving his heart to Pheris.
The volcano erupting dream was a huge foreshadowing through many books and nothing really big came of it. The second half of the book was exciting, though. I did not know how MWT could possibly resolve everything she was leading up to in one book. But she did it. I love the happy ending. I love the dancing on the roof. The epilogue was moving. Gen is such a fascinating character and these books are thrilling. I will continue to re-read them.
@Reta: The orange tree was in the kitchen garden in Attolia. In The Queen of Attolia, Gen tells Irene how when he was a boy his grandfather brought him to Attolia to learn how to sneak around the palace. On those excursions, Gen used to spend in time in that garden. One night he was hiding at the top of an orange tree and he saw Irene come out of the palace into the garden and dance by herself. She held her arms out as if she had sisters whose hands she held and danced together with and he realized he how alone and lonely she was.
I may be wrong about the tamarisk bush but I think that was another time he hid in the kitchen garden. In A Conspiracy of Kings, Sophos asks Eugenides when he first realized he was in love with Attolia. Gen says he was hiding there when he saw Irene and Dite (Sejanus’s older brother) walk into the garden. Dite proposed to Irene in a bumbling way. One moment it was funny and the next it was dead serious, with Gen realizing how jealous he was. That was the moment when he knew he loved her.
BTW the latter is my favorite scene in A Conspiracy of Kings.
I don’t think that was an epilogue, just a short story. It wasn’t included in the ARC.
@Reta: That is interesting. I loved Pheris even more than Sophos (at least in his own book, I loved Sophos in The Thief) and Kamet. It’s hard to choose between Pheris and Costis for my favorite of the secondary narrators.
Also, I thought there was a high chance that we would get a new narrator in this book since every book in the series has a different POV. That was another reason I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t think it would be all Gen.
The attendants weren’t all new; some, like Ion and Philologos, played important roles in The King of Attolia. Ion appeared in A Conspiracy of Kings as well.
(He told Sophos that Gen appreciates his boots more than he appreciates Ion and Sophos offered to ask Gen to give Ion to him to be his attendants. Ion said no because despite it all he was loyal to Gen.)
Anyway my point was just going to be that I enjoyed catching up with them. The new ones were less interesting to me.
If there was a part where I got impatient it was in the middle when that festival was held with the stuff about the play. Overall I think this book was paced better than most of the others.
With regard to Gen’s attachment to Pheris, I felt that it had to do with a handful of things:
(1) They were both disabled, Pheris with his leg, hand and muteness, Gen with his missing hand. Gen knew what it was like to live with a disability and understood what it was like for Pheris, just as Pheris had more insight into what that was like for Gen than anyone else. How vulnerable this made him. This gave them a shared bond.
(2) Even more to the point, Gen soon realized that Pheris was like him in another way. Gen was used to being underestimated and had played the fool in the past, using it to his advantage. Pheris did that exact same thing. It gave them an affinity. Gen admired that in Pheris. Pheris respected that in Gen. And each realized the other felt that way. Gen showed it in the way he left that box for Pheris in the garden—that he was onto him, and would keep his secrets.
The same was true in the other regard (Pheris didn’t tell anyone about Gen’s audience with Moira) which was why it hurt Gen so much when Pheris shared the grain wagon information with Juridius. But even there, after some time passed Gen realized that Pheris had been threatened into it.
(Remember, the threat was that Pheris would lose Gen’s liking and respect if Juridius revealed the truth. That was a betrayal, yes, but one that showed how much Gen’s affection meant to Pheris—how much Pheris had come to love Gen in return.)
(3) Both could see the gods—another shared experience and commonality.
(4) Pheris saved Attolia’s life with the earrings.
(5) Pheris was brave, riding into battle despite his multiple physical vulnerabilities, even going behind enemy lines to try and see if there was anything he could do for Gen while Gen was captive. Don’t forget his grandfather who wanted to kill him was there.
(6) Pheris was loyal. See (5). Also, he was willing to kill Sejanus, his uncle, even though Sejanus had been kind to him in the past, out of loyalty to Gen and to the kingdom.
(7) Pheris was smart. For example he figured out what the gods had meant by “do not overreach” and told Gen. That was another thing Gen liked and another shared affinity.
(8) Pheris gave his own trust and love to Gen. Gen’s love and trust meant more to Pheris than anything in the world which is why his decision to free and then kill Sejanus (and to die in the process himself) ways a huge sacrifice. He believed Gen would think Pheris had betrayed him a second time and be hurt, and hurting Gen was the last thing Pheris wanted to do.
There is probably something else I am forgetting. I was really moved by Pheris and Gen’s love for each other. It read very much like a parent / child relationship to me.
The volcano—I agree that was anticlimactic and I don’t fully buy that no Eddisians will be killed when it goes off. It seems unlikely that Helen will be able to get all of them to migrate. It was misleading to put the volcano on the book cover, too. But I don’t see how a volcanic explosion could have been included in the book without making the book feel overstuffed.
@Janine, Yes! Thank you for the orange tree and tamarisk bush stories! I need to re-read all of the books. My daughter thought the orange tree was where Gen hid to watch Irene but your recall of the scenes really explains Moira’s comment. And I guess the point is, you can bring two people together, but you can’t make them fall in love. The heart has a mind of its own. That is what Gen wanted reassurance of. Sweet little story:)
I gathered the Alyta who the men in the inn were plotting to discredit was not the goddess Alyta, but a woman in the present who happened to be named Alyta, like a parallel story.
It occurred to me that Gen allowed himself to be kidnapped by the Medes.
Gen says his twins will be the King and his Thief. Will Eugenia be the Thief of the whole Little Peninsula now? The Queen’s Thief was an Eddis tradition.
@Reta: It’s been a long time since I read the short story and I only read it once but I thought the earring Gen returned was actually the goddess’s earring. My interpretation was that the men in the inn were minor gods or demigods and that they liked to sit and drink among people. I think the lovely thing about these books is that not everything is explained. Your theory is just as plausible.
Eugenia’s future is open to interpretation as well. I thought the tradition of Queen’s / King’s Thief might migrate from Eddis to Attolia (particularly since the land that makes up Eddis will be made uninhabitable when the volcano goes off) and since Gen said “a King and his Thief” I think Eugenia will be Hector’s Thief and not the Thief of the High King (whoever that will be, they will be in charge of the entire peninsula). Where exactly she will be sneaking into was not said, but given the events in this book I thought Gen might take her to Melenze and one or two other countries to the north to practice her craft. Whereas I have difficulty picturing Gen in the role of ruler, I have no difficulty at all imagining him training his daughter.
I also wonder about Gitta, the girl whose name is scribbled in the corner of the map of Thick as Thieves. I think that Kamet may be her tutor but I’m not sure. Is Gitta a nickname for Eugenia or is she another princess? A later child of Gen and Irene, or perhaps Sophos and Helen’s child?
@Janine I agree not everything is explained. MWT seems very respectful of the reader’s interpretation. She never clarifies anything:) It is so interesting in reading this chain to see other reader’s insights. They shed new light for me on Gen’s tale.
I also love the idea of Gen training his daughter to be a thief. They are still surrounded by other countries, some obviously not friendly, so I can see the need for a new thief.
Other readers have mentioned that most of the names in the Thief books sound Greek, but Gitta doesn’t. It has a more Germanic sound. So I think she is from somewhere else. But perhaps from the next generation also. I would love to read her story. I also have always been intrigued by Gen’s large family. I always wanted to see more of his relationship and interaction with his siblings. But, alas, his favorite brother is dead now.
@Reta: I had that same thought about Gitta’s name. I hope we’ll have her story someday! MWT writes slowly so it’s hard to know how many more books she’ll get to.
The one of Gen’s relatives whom we don’t know much about and who most intrigued me was his mother. I would have loved to see a female Thief in action, but of course she died young so we couldn’t have a happy-ending book about her. Another relative I would be very happy to read about is Sophos’s sister Ina. I loved her in A Conspiracy of Kings.
It’s been years since I read the previous books, and I listened to this book mostly during my commutes to and from work so I’m sure I missed loads of things, but I thought one of the biggest twists of the book was that Gen ended up alive and with a happily ever after. I felt like Turner kept foreshadowing his death, and what were all those episodes of Gen being sick about?? Also, could someone enlighten mean what the phrase “so so so” means? It is such a colloquial phrase from the Peninsula or does it harken back to something important that I should remember?
@Li: I’m sorry I missed your comment. That’s a great point about Gen not dying. It didn’t read like a big twist for me but I think that was only because I never expected him to die, since the books in the series always end happily. Turner did foreshadow his death (and the blurb did too) but since Thick as Thieves overlaps with Return of the Thief I think the mention of Gen’s frailty in TaT was explained by the illness Gen caught from Pheris early on in RotK.
Other than that, it’s been said in more than one fo book that the loss of his hand has made Gen less healthy than he once was. I think that may be related to his rise to power. In some mythologies God-given power has come with costs. The small goddess explained to Gen late in The Queen of Attolia, when Gen demanded to know why the gods betrayed him, that this was their reason.
Lastly (on this topic), I think Gen may have been playing it up since he thrives on being underestimated.
“So, so, so” is just a colloquialism as far as I can tell.
I loved reading everyone’s thoughts and observations on RotT. I was dying to talk about the book with someone once I finished but didn’t have anyone so reading this thread was so fun for me. I hadn’t fully understood what happened to Gen when he was captured by the Mede’s and the explanation that his god was in him too made a lot of sense.
One thing that stood out to me that hasn’t been mentioned in regards to the relationship between Pheris and Gen is I think Gen in the end really understood Pheris’ love for him because he had loved others in the same way. When Gen is asking Irene to return to Attolia after they basically won the battle and she asks him about his promises. He says
“A man man do many strange things and not feel he has broken a promise if he keeps faith with the one to whom he made it.”
It seems like Gen had always had this deeper understanding of Pheris and he can see part of himself in him.
@Sarah: What a great point. That statement is one of the central themes of the book—the meaning of keeping faith. We see that play out in Gen and Pheris’s relationship and I think you’re right that Gen is on the same wavelength that Pheris is on. I loved Pheris because he had so much in common with Gen and yet was completely his own person. I loved the way Gen treated him and understood his needs and thoughts so well, too.
I’m very late to the party, but I wanted to float one theory: is the minor goddess who speaks to Gen at the end of QofA possibly Alyta? I don’t have the books in front of me, but she definitely said, “You sacrificed to me once,” and Gen wonders whether that means he used to sacrifice to her or that he put something on her alter just once, with a reference to random offerings he tends to make on minor alters–which is what seems to be happening in the Alyta’s earring story. The explanation that the minor goddess in QofA gives him then about happiness and fate would seem to take on greater significance if directly linked to Alyta’s story. Thoughts?
@A: I don’t think it’s possible to know because it also says in at least one book that he’s left sacrifices at a bunch of altars, major and minor, over the years even before he believed the gods were real. I don’t necessarily think it was Alyta but it could be.
Hello to everyone in this thread! I have just recently finished Return of the Thief and also had so many things I want to talk about to other readers so I’m really glad I found this site.
I enjoyed reading everyone’s interpretation of the scenes especially the theory of Gen merging with God-Gen. That’s something I didn’t really notice while reading RotT. Also, the part where Pheris planned to kill Sejanus and die with him. I’ve been rereading the previous books also and I’m surprised that I’m still seeing details that I overlooked before. It’s one of the things that I love the most about the series because no matter how many times I read the books, I always pick up new information.
@A: I do believe it was Alyta because in Queen of Attolia and Alyta’s Missing Earring, the goddess referred to Gen as little thief.
@A: I do believe that was Alyta standing between him & the Great Goddess. Alyta is a gentle daughter of the storm god & she was making it rain softly when her sister was looking for her in Alyta’s Earring. There is some mention of the sound of water or the feel of cool water or maybe her voice being like cool water on his hot or burned skin during his appeal to the great goddess about why he was betrayed. She asks him what he would give up to have his hand back- would he give up Irene? That seemed to me (after I read Alyta’s Earring) to show her involvement in brining them together- she understood that he truly loved her and by that love Alyta had fulfilled her promise to little Eugenides of giving him his heart’s desire.
@Vicki: Oooh, you’ve convinced me! And you’ve also reminded me of a couple of my favorite lines from The King of Attolia:
@Erin Satie: Alyta’s story is fascinating, and there’s a lot to break down, it’s fascinating (this is only what I think happens, there’s no definitive proof that this is true).
on page 137 of Return of the Thief, it describes the earrings Heiro gives the king – “tiny amphorae and even tinier sprays of golden flowers.”
On page 445 it describes Alyta’s earring: “a tiny lapis urn (that held) sprays of miniature flowers, with blossoms made of seed pearls and leaves enameled in yellow and green.”
The similarity is not coincidental; Heiro gives the king imitations of a goddess’s earrings (he doesn’t know they’re imitations, nor does he know they’re imitations of a goddess’s, because he’s never even heard the story until Irene tells it to him, in Alyta’s short story, which is on page 448 in the hardcover copy of Return).
So Gen, without realizing that they’re imitations, in his desperation to save Irene, takes them and uses them as an offering of sorts for the god Alyta, and begs her to let Irene live. The God of Thieves never took up her offer, and the earrings remind her of that. The Queen’s Thief reminds Alyta of this promise to his god, and because he returns “her” earrings to her, she grants his heart’s desire.
That’s actually not the only reason, though. Remember his encounter with her when he’s younger, when she tells him that she’ll grant him his heart’s desire, on page 451-452 (the short story at the end of ROTT)? That’s all coming to pass. Growing up after that encounter, he’s confused at what his sole heart’s desire will turn out to be – at the end of the very last book of the series, he realizes, and it ends up being Irene. She is his heart’s sole desire; she is all that he wants.
About Gen saying Eugenia will be Hector’s Thief:
1) like someone else said, the fact that he says “A KING’s thief”, not “THE KING’s thief”, which might be a foreshadowing that Hector will rule Attolia, but not Sounis/Eddis, reinforcing that it’s not a hereditary title but an “earned” one
2) Gen’s granddad was Thief, then Gen’s mother, then Gen. Now Gen’s daughter. Is it intentionally switching back and forth between genders, or is this just a coincidence that may or may not be intentional?
3) this is completely an Eddisian custom (as shown in The Thief, when people not only don’t recognize him but get the story wrong when they talk about the Thief because they’re unaccustomed to that. Given the fact that Useless the Elder – don’t remember his name lol – doesn’t understand why they’d have a Thief in the first place, it’s safe to assume that outside of Eddis it’s not a thing) which makes me wonder if, because Eddis is being subsumed by Sounis, Gen wants to turn Attolia into almost an Eddis part two? Since we know that not only are people going to move into Sounis, but they’ll also take refuge in Attolia, because it’s close by. Also that this might hint at a second Eddis, one that rises up after the volcano settles down. This would not be anytime soon, since the damage to the earth and environment would be bad enough to make it uninhabitable, but maybe that’s why Gen wants to teach her to be the Thief, so that it will live on and they’ll have a Thief when Eddis comes back.
unrelated tangent: I love this thread. It’s not only incredibly interesting but all of you have really good points, and some things I’d never noticed before. I love that it’s making me think deeper about the book than I did the first time reading it, and how well each opinion and theory is voiced. It was almost more fun to read this discussion than the book itself