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In Megan Whalen Turner’s novel The Thief, the reader is compelled to accept at the story’s protagonist the titular thief, an individual whose identity is defined by his exceptional ability to steal what belongs to others and escape to steal again. In the opening chapter, Turner introduces us to her protagonist with the revelation that he is in prison (“I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison”). The thief, the story’s narrator, then proceeds to explain his current predicament, including the fact that he was not only imprisoned, but shackled as well:
“Few prisoners wore chains in their cells, only those that the king particularly disliked . . . I suppose it’s safe to say that the king dislike me.”
And then, to emphasize his stature in the world of criminality, the imprisoned thief notes:
“The cell door was a gate of bars. The guards looked in at me as they passed their rounds, a tribute to my reputation. As part of my plans for greatness, I had bragged without shame about my skills in every wine store in the city.”
If this be Turner’s protagonist, whose name will be revealed as Eugenides, or Gen, one might ask, how much worse could be the novel’s antagonist? With the protagonist, Gen, an individual of highly questionable character, and clearly lacking in humility, one can suppose that the antagonist will be the king who has imprisoned him. As will be revealed during the course of Turner’s novel, however, the story’s antagonist(s) is first and foremost the character Ambiades, the apprentice to the magus, who one can also suggest early on will be the main obstacle standing in the hero’s way. Ambiades, it will turn out, is the grandson of an archduke who incurred the king’s wrath – a possibility suggested in the opening chapter when Gen notes that the prison’s occupants occasionally included “counts or dukes or the minister of the Exchequer,” categories of individuals likely to be subjected to shackles while confined – a condition to which Ambiades’ politically ambitious grandfather was sentenced. Unknown to Gen, the magus, and others making the journey that provides the novel’s action, Ambiades has betrayed them to their enemies, stating upon discovery of his perfidy that he had "decided he'd rather be a wealthy traitor than an impoverished apprentice." Ambiades, then, could be categorized as the novel’s antagonist.
Another antagonist in The Thief is not a “who” but a “what,” as the question implied. The quest for immortality has fueled many a literary or cinematic plot. The magus’s mission of locating and stealing – utilizing the unique skills of Gen -- Hamiathes's Gift on behalf of the king he loyally serves suggests that the obsession with mortality common among many a despot could constitute another antagonist.
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