The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
The most powerful advisor to the King of Sounis is the magus. He’s not a wizard, he’s a scholar, an aging soldier, not a thief. When he needs something stolen, he pulls a young thief from the King’s prison to do the job for him.
Gen is a thief and proud of it. When his bragging lands him behind bars he has one chance to win his freedom– journey to a neighboring kingdom with the magus, find a legendary stone called Hamiathes’s Gift and steal it.
The magus has plans for his King and his country. Gen has plans of his own.
This is an old recommendation, and one that’s been repeated through the years. I initially picked it up from Nancy Pearl, I believe, and it got reinforced when I came to book blogging by a lot of different people; A Conspiracy of Kings, the fourth book in the series, came out two years ago. It’s one of those nineties fantasy novels that I utterly missed as a kid, and there’s no time like the present to make up for it.
Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog didn’t enjoy it at first, but a late in the novel twist made everything better for her. Fyrefly at Fyrefly’s Book Blog didn’t love it, although she appreciated the worldbuilding. Mary at My Sister’s Bookshelf really enjoyed it, especially Gen’s narrative voice. Steph at Steph Su Reads absolutely adored it.
The Thief was published on October 1, 1996.