Recent Reading: The Return of the Thief

So … The Return of the Thief —

I hadn’t realized Return had a bright red cover, while all the previous books have now been given darker covers. Not a bad design choice, I suppose, though I did like the original covers for the series. But fine.

I liked the book a lot. Let me see … I guess my personal ordering goes like this:

  1. King of Attolia
  2. Queen of Attolia
  3. Conspiracy of Kings
  4. Return of the Thief
  5. The Thief
  6. Thick as Thieves

I expect everyone’s got a somewhat different ordering. I liked Thick as Thieves, but I don’t think it’s as good as the others and I, like most readers, probably, was disappointed not to see more of Gen.

We don’t have that problem here. Eugenides isn’t the viewpoint character, but Pheris places him constantly at the center of the story he’s telling.

I liked Pheris a lot, and I liked that he wasn’t magically fixed at any point. Physically disabled and mute at the beginning, physically disabled and mute at the end, but since he is the one writing the account long after the fact, of course it’s clear that Pheris not only survives, but will eventually do very well.

Pheris is one of the most physically disabled protagonists I can ever remember encountering in SFF. I think MWT pulled off writing him quite well. He was believable and sympathetic, though far from perfect. Though the attitudes that surround him are tough to deal with at first, those attitudes are entirely believable for the world, too. He also begins as a stranger to Gen and to the story so far, serving as a new eye to see all the primary characters and their relationships and events already familiar to the reader.

I have an important question about Pheris, though. How old is he?

Did MWT ever tell us that? I had a hard time settling on an age. Ten? Twelve? Younger than that? Older than that? His brother is “less than a year” younger, and I had the impression the brother is more like fourteen, but that can’t be right unless Pheris is very small for his age as well as disabled.

Now, Pheris aside … I like how MWT worked in events from the other books, especially Thick as Thieves, and showed the reader how those events impacted everything else. I liked how she the handled the war, too, although … I have another important question:

Does nobody other than the people of the Little Peninsula recognize divine intervention when the gods plainly have their thumb firmly on the scales? Because it seems to me that the Medes should have said at some point, Uh, okay, you know what, we didn’t really want to invade anyway. For example, when Gen wakes up the morning after the “trial” and discovers he feels fine. Do the Medes not have spies who reported that moment? Because it seriously seems to me that would have been a good time for the Medes to start considering options other than pressing ahead.

Certainly the lightning strike. If I’d been the Mede in charge after the lightning strike, I would probably have said, “Huh, look at that. Well, the gods are clearly not on our side here, so let’s retreat!” That would have caused a lot less wear and tear on everyone.

Third question: if you were king of one of the Continental Powers, just how safe would you feel in your bed at night, given the flow of events?

Best plot element: I’m a sucker for redemption arcs. I was therefore very happy with the way things worked out with Sejanus.

Worst plot element: I guess in war a lot of people die. But I got kinda fond of some of Gen’s attendants and was sorry so many of them were lost.

Best line: It’s hard to beat, “I promise, he has all the fighting spirit of an apricot.” Also, it’s fun how Gen wound up using that horse’s complete lack of fighting spirit that one time.

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7 thoughts on “Recent Reading: The Return of the Thief”

  1. I love this series and had not realized there was a new book out in it. Thank you for mentioning it!

  2. I couldn’t miss it, Allan, because tons of people I follow on Twitter have been counting down the days. I don’t do much on Twitter, but there was no way to miss Release Day for this particular book!

    I predict you’ll really like Return, and if you figure out how old Pheris is, I would like to know!

  3. I think my assumption of Pheris’s age kept getting revised upward as the story progressed. Adolescent is as narrowed-down as I can get. As old as Eugenides was when we first met him would be my best guess (and do we know how old that is? I can’t remember.)

    Ha, the horse, yes, that was a great moment!

  4. Kim, I kept being caught by “the little monster” and other references to his small size. And his brother was exiled “even though he was only a child.” I kept revising my estimation of Pheris’ age upward and then downward again. It distracted me more than I would’ve expected.

  5. Allan L Shampine

    I just put up a review of the book on Amazon. I went back and forth about whether to talk about the age bit, but I finally decided that since it had resulted in me knocking off a half star from my rating, that was something the author probably should know for future reference, so I explained that at the very end of the review.

  6. I’m slowly re-reading Return now — I’m more actively reading other things, plus working on stuff of my own — and honestly, I am happier now that I have decided firmly that as far as I’m concerned, Pheris is twelve or thirteen. I don’t generally pay that much attention to the physical description of characters, and have literally written entire books without ever describing the protagonist, yet it seems to bother me not to have a rough idea of age. Probably that would matter to me less if the character were firmly in a category, like “young mature person.” Pheris is not, which is causing problems for me, but I’ve come down on the “child” end of child-to-young-adult spectrum because of his size and his reaction to comments about “someday you’ll be in love.”

  7. I’ve been thinking about why it bothers me so much, and I’ve concluded that it is because the reader’s interest is deliberately piqued and then the author never delivers a payoff.
    Mysteries play games with information all the time, but the best ones try to play fair (you’ve got the clues, you can figure it out) and they have a payoff (here’s the reveal). In this case, there is no payoff and I cannot think of any way in which being mysterious about the character’s age enhances the narrative. I think the author here would have been better off just never making a big deal out of it (like when you don’t describe a protagonist – if it’s not important to the narrative, no need to get into it). But when the author puts it into a scene, has the character give an answer, and then writes around it so the reader doesn’t get the answer, that is like Chekhov’s gun. The author has made a big deal of it, which means the reader is now focused on it and expects a payoff. When there is no payoff, that’s really aggravating.

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