The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

the_thiefThe Thief (The Queen’s Thief #1)
By Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
ISBN: 9780060824976
Pages: 280
Genre: YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction

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The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities.

What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.


My Thoughts

This was such a refreshing and unexpected read! I picked up The Thief in an effort to complete one of my current reading challenge prompts, but I was not prepared for how endearing I was soon to find its unlikely hero and protagonist, Gen.

The skinny..

When the magus finds himself in need of a thief to help him seek out an elusive, ancient treasure for the king, he turns to the prison. It is here that he chooses young Gen, a boastful and proud thief, selected solely for his skills to help him complete the job at hand. What is the job? Only the magus knows. So Gen, happy to escape his current confinements sets out with 4 men on a long and dangerous journey. Along the way, they will they will share food, trade stories of the old gods and goddesses, and possibly come to know one another just a little.

” ‘I want you to steal something.’
I smiled. ‘Do you want the king’s seal? I can get it for you.’
‘If I were you,’ said the magus, ‘I’d stop bragging about that.’ His voice grated.
My smile grew. The gold ring with the engraved ruby had been in his safekeeping when I had stolen it away.” 

What I appreciated..

  • This is a beautiful slow burn sort of tale unfolds throughout the course of our narrator’s travels. And I adore traveling stories for some many reasons, I would not even know where to start. But the every changing setting and perils offer an environment that is ripe with opportunity. It is here we learn so much about our protagonist and companions.
  • There are elements of mythology present, though I am unable to place my finger on any specific one. It felt as if Turner plucked the best from Greek mythology and other familiar cultures and tales, crafting them into something of her own. We are gifted with stories within a story as members of the traveling party trade their tales.
  • Gen is an incredibly rewarding protagonist and narrator. He is witty, animated and invigorating. It does not take long to succumb to his odd, wily charms and find yourself slightly enchanted.
  • Turner’s writing is captivating and seamless, creating a rich and immersive experience.
  • The ending was not what I had imagined and I am thankful for that. While a few small moments were predicted, I admit to being caught unaware in the best of ways and loved the conclusion!

“It’s a funny thing that the new gods have been worshipped in Sounis since the invaders came, but when people need a truly satisfying curse, they call on the old gods. I called on all of them, one right after another, and used every curse I’d overheard in the lower city.”

Challenges some may encounter..

  • I cannot speak for later books in this series, but The Thief while a fantasy story at heart will read more true as slower paced, historical fiction during this first encounter. The fantasy elements come into limited play. So if you are expecting high fantasy, you may be setting yourself up for some disappointment.
  • I felt the character description was slightly lacking, leaving me to wonder quite a bit about Gen and a few supporting characters.

The Thief is a superb introduction to what promises to be a fulfilling and rich series. Boasting a distinct protagonist who carries a first-person narrative in the best of ways, it is likely to find an appreciative audience among fans of sharp, humorous fantasy and historical fiction. I am looking forward to picking up the next book!

tea cup

 

Pair with an herbal lemon verbena or lavender tea.

Grab a Copy: Amazon.com Book Depository

*Disclosure: I use affiliate links and may earn a small commission for purchases made through them. Click here for details.

Happy Reading,

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

the_lonely_heartsThe Lonely Hearts Hotel
By Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 9780735213739
Pages: 391
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

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With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

With her musical language and extravagantly realized world, Heather O’Neill enchants us with a novel so magical there is no escaping its spell.


My Thoughts

I really had no expectations going into The Lonely Hearts Hotel. I admit this was a case of cover envy that drew me to a convincing blurb, although I tire so of seeing books compared to The Night Circus. Would I compare this to Morgenstern’s beautiful debut? Maybe in the fact that both embrace historical fiction and magical realism in a very unique manner, but most similarities cease there as there are some very stark contrasts. That is not to say that Lonely Hearts is without rewards though.

The skinny..

This is the story of two orphans, Pierrot and Rose. Having grown up in a Montreal orphanage together, they have developed a close relationship and made plans for a future with one another. Pierrot is a talented pianist and Rose a dancing comedian that easily charms any audience. Together they will take the world by storm with the greatest circus known to man. But when they find themselves sent off separately as teenagers to work as servants, their lives take different paths. Both find themselves in a world of dangerous activity, sex, drugs and multiple hardships. So when years later, fate chooses to reunite them, naturally they will stop at nothing to make their dreams a reality.

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“If there was one thing responsible for ruining lives, it was love.” 

What I appreciated..

  • O’neill’s approach to Pierrot and Rose’s story is perhaps one of the most brazen and graphic explorations of an abusive life in an orphanage and the hardships of life leading up to the Great Depression that I have ever encountered. The result is one that is highly effective and will for the same reason be extremely difficult. But perhaps for this purpose, discomfort is of the most benefit.
  • Pierrot and Rose are young dreamers facing impossible odds. Their evolution and growth is a process of hope and heartache that leaves a lasting impression and easily carries the reader through a significant range of emotions.
  • The setting is beautifully constructed through a sequence of magical realism, vivid descriptions and lyrical prose that transports the reader into the heart of the story and the early 1900s.
  • The Lonely Hearts Hotel combines elements of the whimsical with moments of pure tragedy, setting a very unique pace that I found to be highly engaging.
  • Through the good and bad, O’Neill tackles powerful themes in a head-on manner that is admirable and effective.

“Love was a paltry, meek thing; it was guilt that spoke in such operatic statements.” 

Challenges some may encounter..

  • Please do not be mislead by the synopsis. This is by no means an easy or light-hearted read. It will present with many heavy themes and possible triggers that include: sexual abuse, physical abuse, drug use, and violence.
  • This is not a story full of happy endings and it will not be for everyone. The raw approach, contrasting themes, and pace can make for a challenging read when unexpected. This is the rare case where I would advise exploring a few spoiler-free reviews beforehand.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel promises something magical but perhaps delivers it in a very unexpected manner. A tragic story laced with stunning moments of hope and love, it is sure to leave a permanent mark on all who encounter it. But I suspect that the end results will truly be of the very personal and greatly varying, as it makes no pretenses about the harshness of the world contained within. For myself, this was a captivating tale of love, loss, and self-discovery that I will carry with me always.

tea cup

Pairs well with a lovely jasmine rose or light floral blend.

Grab a Copy: Amazon.com  Book Depository

*Disclosure: I use affiliate links and may earn a small commission for purchases made through them. Click here for details.

Happy Reading,

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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace
By Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor Books
ISBN: 9780385490443
Pages: 486
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Synopsis:

In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid’s Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?


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While significantly different from my usual reading selections, Alias Grace is a standing reminder that regardless of the past hurdles I have encountered with some of Atwood’s work, I can and do still hold a deep admiration and respect for it.

Set in the 19th century, Alias Grace follows the events unfolding after the conviction of young Grace Marks for her involvement in the heinous murder of her employer and his head housekeeper alongside stable boy James McDermott. Dr. Simon Jordan interviews Grace daily in an effort to restore memories of the fateful day she claims to have no recollection of. There are those who believe in her guilt and those who wish to see her pardoned. But whether Grace is truly innocent or indeed a manipulative and cunning murderess remains a mystery.

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While Alias Grace is a work of fiction, it has been based around the real life case of Grace Marks, an Irish-Canadian housemaid who was charged in the murder of Thomas Kinnear (her employer) and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery in 1843. The trial and conviction caused a large amount of controversy as there were many who believed she was an unwilling accomplice to the murders and that James McDermott was solely responsible. She was pardoned 30 years after being sentenced and relocated to New York. The case is still shrouded in mystery.

It is hard to discuss what Margaret Atwood delivers in Alias Grace to full extent without leaving enough revelation for potential readers. This is a slower paced, character study that immerses the reader into the 19th century and explores the relationship between men and women. It touches on themes of women’s social standing and treatment as well as exploring the practices and changes occurring within the field of mental health.

Grace is a complex and perplexing character with a natural intelligence and intuition that often leaves you questioning her capabilities and motives.  I found myself absorbed in her story and often less concerned with her guilt and more so with what actually happened. Dr. Jordan is equally fascinating with his youthful passion for the evolving mental health practice and asylums and sometimes questionable actions. The point of view weaves between the two with snippets of news-clippings and letters, providing a cleverly alternating perspective that manages a suspicious and uncertain narrative. All of this feeds the beautiful mystery that is Grace Marks elegantly.

“…I was shut up inside that doll of myself and my true voice could not get out.” 

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While the leisurely pace and sometimes disjointed narration can require an adjustment period, the end result is an unexpectedly inviting and puzzling experience that challenges the reader to confront those heavier topics and message concealed within. It is a story told in a manner that only Atwood can. Brilliantly patient, yet equally rich and rewarding.

tea cupPairs well with an Irish Breakfast blend served with milk.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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