Megan Whalen Turner discusses her long-awaited novel Thick As Thieves, sharing her thoughts on unexpected journeys and a little hint for the future.
In the fifth installment in the Queen’s Thief series, Turner shifts her attention to Kamet, an ambitious young slave in the Mede Empire. When the distant hand of the Attolian king turns Kamet’s life on its head, Kamet embarks on a journey that becomes as much personal transformation as it is a desperate escape.
Masterfully crafted and infinitely subtle, Thick As Thieves presents a different, yet vital angle on the ongoing drama of the Queen’s Thief series. Turner guides her tale with exquisite control through a perilous journey to an explosive conclusion that will leave readers gasping — and desperate for the next (and final) installment.
Interview with Megan Whalen Turner
Let’s talk about Kamet first. How and why did you decide to focus on him as your central character in Thick As Thieves? What do you think he offers as a protagonist?
I like the idea of the reader seeing my main character, Gen, through various people’s eyes — and it would get dull if all those people were as earnest and honest and salt of the earth as a certain Attolian Guard. Kamet brings a whole new way of appraising Gen, from the viewpoint of someone as cunning and as ruthless as himself, someone who is also exploring the limits of his own selfishness.
Thick As Thieves has a lot of structural and thematic similarities to your first book, The Thief. What was your thought process in approaching the book this way?
I think I have a thing for quests — for the physical journeys and the simultaneous psychological ones.
Interesting. In many ways, this book is Kamet’s quest — a journey of healing from his abusive relationship with Nahuseresh. Can you talk about exploring that process, and how you decided to tackle this issue?
I don’t think of it as an issue or a process, but as you pointed out, a journey. As I said above, I think I have a thing for quests, probably as a result of my childhood reading — J.R.R. Tolkein, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander — so many books with quests.
One of my favorite books is by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth, in which a Roman soldier has to face the fact that his wound will never heal properly, that all the plans for his life have gone up in smoke. He and a slave go traveling together, psychologically and physically and both come back, in different ways, free men. Sutcliff raised an important question in my mind, one that’s been rattling around in there for years. Who gets to be the main character of a story? I wanted to revisit that question in Thick As Thieves.
All of your books are delightfully mysterious, and full of literary sleight-of-hand. Thick As Thieves is no exception, but the mystery is buried even more deeply than usual — it feels like a true long-con. How did you approach this particular kind of mystery?
You seem to be suggesting that I am not entirely up front with my readers. I cannot imagine why…
Ha! In that case, what was the most challenging element of Thick As Thieves for you? Were there any surprises along the way, or changes you decided to make?
Thick As Thieves was originally supposed to be the second half of The King of Attolia, but that would have meant a book the size of cinderblock, so I set it aside for later and I’m glad I did. The King of Attolia was in third person and at that time, Thick as Thieves would have been as well. I decided to write another book before coming back to Kamet and when I did, I realized that third person was the wrong choice. I closed my eyes, threw out my first draft, and started over.
We have heard a lot about the Mede Empire in previous Queen’s Thief books, but this book allows us to explore the land and culture intimately. What was your process of developing this new setting?
My goal is to offer readers the stimulus they need to spur their imagination. So I hunted around in the back of my head for the things that spurred my imagination. Some of those things are pretty obvious, others are definitely idiosyncratic. A.S. Byatt’s Possession for example was as important as Pritchard’s The Ancient Near East.
Thick As Thieves finally reveals the map of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis, but the map’s inscription is yet another mystery. Can you tell us anything about Gitta Kingsdaughter, or at least if we will learn more about her in the future?
Gitta appeared in a flash, complete with a backstory, just as I started looking around for someone’s name to go on that first map. I love it when that happens, but I don’t think we will see very much more of her. She’d need a book of her own and I think when I finish the one I am working on now, I’ll move on from this world.
Wow. Well, Thick As Thieves definitely leaves the reader with many questions. I know you can’t go into detail, but can you give us any hints about where the story may go in the future, and who it may involve?
Elephants? I think it involves elephants?
Fair enough. Last question — would you rather be a book, or a computer?
I prefer to be a museum. The British Museum in particular, though the Egyptian Museum in Cairo would be good, too.