#WitchWeek2021 Day 1: The Queen’s Thief series

For today, Halloween, and this, the first of our posts for this year’s Witch Week, we have an introduction to a fantasy series set in a classical world.

The Queen’s Thief series:
An appreciation

Lory Widmer Hess

Once upon a time, a young debut novelist wrote what she thought would be a standalone middle grade novel. She had studied English literature at the University of Chicago, home to the world-famous Center for Children’s Books, and been a book buyer for the children’s department in various bookstores, so she knew the field well. And she was deeply inspired by the authors she admired — Diana Wynne Jones and Rosemary Sutcliff being high up on the list.

Her primary concern was with character, with writing out of a notion that had been brewing in her mind for some time, “the idea of a person traveling in the company of other people who entirely underestimated him and failed to recognize who he was and what he was capable of doing.” But she also wanted to get the setting right, making it somewhat familiar while avoiding the overdone Middle Earth type of world, and it took her quite some time before she settled on a land with more than a passing resemblance to the former city-states of Greece. Given that Ancient Greece is a unit commonly taught in schools, she was “pretty sure that most of [her] audience in this country would be able to imagine this landscape, with just a few important cues – and that it would fire their imaginations.” [1]

Once that was finally settled, the book took off, and The Thief was duly written and published by Greenwillow in 1996. Narrated by its central character, Gen, it captured readers, educators, and reviewers with its freshly imagined quasi-Mediterranean setting, complete with a new pantheon of Gods headed by the formidable goddess Hephestia, and a surprising, tricksy plot involving not just one but a number of personages and events that are not what they at first appear. And the author, Megan Whalen Turner, was likewise surprised one day to receive an exciting phone call: her book had been selected for a Newbery Honor.

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