I think I originally read The Thief way back when I was in fifth grade, so...in like 2003? One of my teachers had it in her classroom library and I absolutely devoured it. At the time, I don't believe it had any sequels, and I just learned that it had gained some in the past year--so of course I had to go back and read it first, being as it had been a decade and a half since I'd read it the first time! The thief in question in the book is Gen, who starts the story in prison for stealing the seal of the king and bragging about it in a wineshop. He's taken out of prison by the king's magus, a sort of scholar, who believes he knows where a great treasure is--and needs Gen to steal it.
The world here is mostly based on ancient Greece, though for some reason there are also guns? Kind of weird. But for the most part, yes, Greece-based. There are gods and goddesses lurking in the stories in the background, and two side characters that serve as the magus's apprentices and also as vessels for transmitting a lot of the background information that needs to be absorbed without it being downright info-dumping. I thought this was very well-done. What I actually didn't like here was Gen himself.
Here's the thing. Gen is a brat. He spends so much of his time acting downright obnoxious. And yes, there's a reason for this, and it gets better, but for about two thirds of the book he's just as annoying as can be, and not only to the magus and his other travelling companions, but to me as the reader as well. It was absolutely infuriating and I really sympathized with the other characters who wanted to strangle Gen...probably not an ideal situation for feelings towards a main character. Despite having read this book before, I actually didn't remember much past the 70% mark, which is when Gen starts getting better, so I also had no memory of it improving, and found myself dreading dealing with him for the duration of the book.
While I liked the world-building, I also feel like it might have been a bit confusing for someone who didn't already have an understanding of ancient Greece. There are a lot of things that are drawn from history here and not really explained in the book, so someone who hasn't actually taken a college-level course in ancient Greek history like I have might have been a little lost; I know I definitely understood more this time through, having taken such a course during my time as a history student in college, than I did when I read it in fifth grade. Being as this is categorized as a children's book, I think a little more fleshing-out of the setting could have probably been useful. I'm not sure how many fifth graders understand what an agora is or the various invading forces that went against Greece and how that played out, influences of which are floating about and are important in understanding the political climate on which the story spins.
Still, though, this was a fast and very enjoyable read. The design of the temple in which the treasure is hidden was so cool--kind of Water-Temple-from-Ocarina-of-Time-esque.
Overall, I really liked this, and am looking forward to reading the sequels!
4 stars out of 5.