Exclusive: Megan Whalen Turner Reveals the Cover for 'Return of the Thief'

Posted by Marie on July 17, 2018
After 20 enchanting years, author Megan Whalen Turner is set to conclude her beloved Queen's Thief young adult fantasy series. In addition to unveiling the cover of the series' final installment, Return of the Thief, Turner shares a behind-the-scenes look at selecting the art as well as her thoughts on her writing journey with the powerful and cunning Eugenides the thief.



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Goodreads: It's finally here! What are your thoughts on the cover for Return of the Thief?

Megan Whalen Turner: I love that fiery red—it’s one of my favorite colors—and I love the little crackle pattern, as if the heat from the volcano has crinkled the background. Also, I love the elephant. It was a long wait for that elephant.

GR: What can you tell us about the cover's creative process?

MWT: The process for the new covers on the first four books in the Queen’s Thief series and for Thick as Thieves and Return of the Thief was the same. My editor, Virginia Duncan, and I talked about different elements that might work for the story. Then I sent a lot of reference images, and Virginia showed me the basic design first.

Little by little, the details were added and shuffled around. Every time she sent another version of the cover, it was better than before. I am continually astonished by cover artist Joel Tippie and art director Paul Zakris. I look at the trees especially and think they are the most amazing works of art.

GR: The first book in the Queen's Thief series was originally published in 1996. How has the creative process for selecting covers changed since then? Were there any visual themes that remained the same throughout the series?

MWT: Let me just say that I love the original cover of The Thief. It has a stylized image of the goddess Hephestia sitting on her throne, and I think it looks mysterious and fascinating (do you see that shadowy hand?). But I also have to say, it’s a darn good thing it’s got that silver sticker on it because I may be the only person who likes it. People thought it was a very bad picture of the main character. Some librarians told me their students thought it was Jesus. There have been many other editions since. Most of them foreign translations I have no influence over at all, and that’s probably a good thing. They arrive in the mail like birthday presents, and I’m excited every time a new artist creates a cover.

Some years later (but who’s counting), when I delivered The King of Attolia, Greenwillow repackaged the paperbacks with Vince Natale paintings on the covers. They sent the new cover for The Thief, which was beautiful. I’m not a stickler for accuracy. I didn’t mind that Hamiathes’ Gift was the size of a yo-yo. And then they sent the cover for The Queen of Attolia—which I thought was absolutely horrifying. A hook with a gleaming point about to pierce the queen of Attolia’s finger? I said, No, that was creepy. I called Virginia, who had passed me to the paperback publisher, I think, before I remembered—the Jesus cover.

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I am responsible for what goes inside the book, not what goes on the outside, and there’s a really good reason for that. Greenwillow was willing to make changes, but I said, No, never mind, and as far as I know, no one has ever shied away from The Queen of Attolia because of that image. It is, after all, both beautiful and on point.

When Greenwillow repackaged the series again last year, they asked for any images that I thought might be relevant, and I bombed Virginia with thousands via email. Leigh Bardugo looked at me over the dinner table after a day at San Diego Comic-Con and asked why I didn’t just make Pinterest boards. Thank you, Leigh. Now I do that. I gather pictures; Greenwillow transforms them into beautiful covers.

Oh, I almost forgot. I also send them my terrible hand-drawn sketches. Virginia loves those.

GR: The finale to the Queen's Thief series was 20 years in the making. What lessons have you learned along the way? What moments stood out for you?

MWT: It’s been a long writing journey, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is to watch out for self-indulgence. It is the author’s most insidious enemy. It tells you it’s OK not to work when you’re feeling tired or distracted. It whispers in your ear that you don’t need more character development and it is totally, absolutely, positively OK to use three adverbs in a row. That’s really what they mean when people tell you to kill your darlings—beware of self-indulgence, but it’s more than just the adverbs you have to watch out for.

On the other hand, I think you have to believe your writing is more important than the laundry, or you’ll never write anything. People who enjoy writing the most are the ones who have the hardest time justifying the time they spend on it. But there will always be other things that really need doing, and yes, we should do them, but writing also deserves its moment at the top of the priority list.

As for memorable moments, wow, those phone calls out of the blue are great. Susan Hirschman, my first editor, called to say that Greenwillow wanted to publish my first book, and all I could think was, Who could be prank-calling me like this? When the Newbery committee called, I said, "Newbery? Like, with one r, Newbery?"

Maybe the best moments are when the universe brings me a message from a reader who loves my books within a few days of a message sent by someone who loves that reader.

"My son loves your books"—and I know, I know he does. He wrote the day before from the other side of the world to tell me about how much it meant to share the books with his mom. “I love your books”—and I think, yeah, your dad told me that when he got you a signed set for graduation. Congratulations!

GR: If you could speak to your characters directly, what would you say to them now that your series is drawing to a close?

MWT: I’m sorry it took 20 years. I know, I know, you all arrived so quickly in a haze of glory, and I have been slow to get everything written down. I was busy, OK? And listen, in those 20 years?—I learned a lot of things, and I think I understand all of you much better now than I did then.

GR: What message would you like to share with your longtime fans who have been with you since the beginning?

MWT: Thank you, you wonderful, thoughtful, and most especially patient people! Thank you for taking to heart all of my prickly characters. Thank you for rereading. Thank you for noticing the subtlest of hints. Thank you for putting up with me when I’m "not telling," and thank you, each of you, for taking my words and turning them into the story in your head.

Return of the Thief will be available on March 19, 2019. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf!



Comments Showing 1-50 of 81 (81 new)


message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I didn't realize this book was coming, and now I'm practically trembling from excitement! (Even though March 2019 is still fairly far away.) This has been one of my favorite series for many years -- maybe not the full 20, but definitely 15+ -- and each book has absolutely been worth the wait. I'll be sorry to see it end (but that's what re-reads are for).


message 2: by Elaine (Leng) (new)

Elaine (Leng) I can't believe this! It's really happening!!


message 3: by Diane (new)

Diane I am so sad to hear this will be the last book. We have multiple copies of each book and also have the ebooks just so we can re-read them whenever and wherever we are. I am upset that there are short stories that are in other editions of the books that I don’t have. This is by far my favorite series and I love MWT’s subtlety.


message 4: by Mary (new)

Mary I agree with you, Diane. I'm happy and excited that this book is coming, but sad that it will be the last one. Just reread "Thick as Thieves", and, like all Megan's books, it gets better with each reread. So at least we have that. These wonderful characters and their landscapes will always be with us.


message 5: by Sondra (new)

Sondra Eklund I'm on the Newbery committee this year (2018 books) - I'm relieved that this is coming out in 2019 so I can't try to get it to win the Medal without even reading it! :)


message 6: by Shawna (new)

Shawna I'm going to reread the first three that I have and start reading the next two, in anticipation of the new release!!!!


message 7: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Pettid I'm torn between being thrilled that there is going to be a new book and devastated that the series is coming to an end. Gen is one of my very favorite people and I will miss all of them very much.


message 8: by Ben (new)

Ben I'm torn between being thrilled that there's another Thief book coming out and a bit sad that it'll be the last one. Megan Whalen Turner, your gorgeous writing has inspired me as both a reader and a (amateur, occasional) writer.

No worries about the long breaks between books :) every one has been well worth the wait, and I'd much rather have your incredible, consistent quality than anything rushed.


message 9: by Yasko (new)

Yasko Oh MY GOODNESS!! I have waited for this final story so LONG!! I have been reading this series from the very beginning and can't wait to read the final book, but it's sad to see it is ending. :'( As the book won't be published until 2019, I will re-read the whole series again until then.


message 10: by Ann (new)

Ann It’s coming out on my birthday!!! Clearly a present just for me. So excited.


message 11: by Neha (new)

Neha Singh I am so happy....I need more Gen in my life!! Can't wait for 19th March!


message 12: by Anali (new)

Anali OMG!!! LOVE IT!!! So excited!!


message 13: by Robin (new)

Robin Ed This is SOOO exciting. I have read the first 3 several times over the years. I borrowed them from my mom and never gave them back. I am only just now finding out there are 3 more! I can't wait to read them!!!


message 14: by Linda (new)

Linda Not only do I love the characters and the utterly unpredictable plots, I love the myths, folk tales, poetry, etc. tucked into the stories. Doesn't that make characters more substantial, that they have stories they love, which have shaped them?

I have been worrying about that volcano for ages ... not to mention what the future holds for some of the characters who have held center stage in one or another of the books and now are alive but off in the wings, perhaps returning for their final bows? I live in hope.

From the title of the volume to come, I pray that whatever the twists and turns that it brings, that the 2 kings and 2 queens enjoy some degree of inner peace. And from the cover art, I am assured that, as usual I will be utterly unable to predict where it leave the countries and their people.

I may be inspired to keep a journal to record my reactions and thoughts as I re-read them all and reflect on what may come.

I love having books to look forward to.


message 15: by Desiree M (new)

Desiree M I just read books 1-5 for the first time this month, and seeing the announcement for 6 is so much. I'm so thrilled. I feel like this series really helped me remember how much I love reading and just devouring books. I thought I'd lost that. Turns out - I haven't!


message 16: by Connie (new)

Connie Suttle These books are on my re-read list. Eugenides may be my all-time favorite character, with such depth that he only becomes truly visible to the very patient reader. Thank you, Ms Turner, for gifting us with your deft imagination.


message 17: by Javier (new)

Javier I can’t bealive it, it’s been 12 years for me since I read the first book, what a journey


message 18: by Jane (new)

Jane Cothron A new Queen's Thief book--oh joy! At the same time, I'm sad that this series is ending. I was lucky enough to have read The Thief when it was first released and I've greeted each new release with joy. However, I also found a battered copy of Instead of Three Wishes. Perhaps this will make room for more stories.

I have a copy of an ARC for Queen of Attolia. The cover art is of a hand strapped with a crossed leather strap. For me, it is one of the best examples of book cover art--but it did not make it into actual publication. This current cover and the others in the set are stunning. I wonder how soon my local book store will be able to place a pre-order for me.


message 19: by Katie (new)

Katie I'm so excited for this new book, but also sad that it will be the last in a series that's been with me for so long. Looking forward to doing yet another reread!


message 20: by Beanbag (new)

Beanbag Love Wow! I was prepared for the 6 year wait! This is so exciting. And depressing. But mostly exciting. :D


message 21: by Aerys (new)

Aerys Literally read this series twice a year- love it so much! I thought it already ended until books 4, then 5 came out, but I still felt that each one gave a wonderful conclusion. Now I can't wait for the final!


message 22: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I'm dyingggg. I need this book in my hands *now* and I want to cry that the series I'd ending.


message 23: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Dacyczyn I first read The Thief when I was in middle school, so probably 12-13 years old, and probably a year or two after it was published. So I'm going to go ahead and say that I've basically been waiting the full 20+ years since The Thief was published.


message 24: by Diana (new)

Diana Unbelievably excited for this!!!


DarlingLocalPsychopath This is in my top three favorite series and authors. I was not expecting another book so soon. Relatively soon. I can not wait.


message 26: by Oluchi (new)

Oluchi Buchi-Njere Yes! Yessssss! I CANNOT WAIT! This series is amazing but I'll be sad to see it end.


message 27: by Rouan (new)

Rouan I have been a fan since the first book came out and am so excited about the new one. I am actually counting the days until it's released! LOL


message 28: by Kiki (new)

Kiki Hamilton This series is one of my all-time favorites! Gen is the measure of the character I always strive to write - charming, witty and wickedly clever (like a viper!) I love him!

Also, I wrote you a fan email way way back in the day before I started writing my own books (or maybe I had just started writing..anyway) I will NEVER forget the day you replied! There I was a grown-up fan-girl dancing around with my daughter like I was 10! I've always been grateful you took the time to reply.

Super excited to read the next part of the story! :-)


message 29: by Tamar (new)

Tamar What a stunning cover. Can’t wait to read this book


message 30: by Kristyn (new)

Kristyn I'm so excited! I reread all of them in one fell swoop last summer when I found Thick as Thieves, and the story is still etched in my heart.

The cover art is very vibrant, and I have speculations at the elements it shows....

I should take MWT's thoughts about writing to heart. "I think you have to believe your writing is more important than the laundry, or you’ll never write anything." - Good advice!


message 31: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Dacyczyn Jane Cothran, are you describing the original hardcover edition that you have an ARC for?


message 32: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Dobrez What great news to wake up to this morning. Let the rereading begin again while we wait! I'm also wishing I were Laini Taylor this morning...I'd have blurbed this for you, MWT. ;)


message 33: by Yossy (new)

Yossy Elaine (Leng) wrote: "I can't believe this! It's really happening!!"I feel the same, so excited!


twice_baked✌️ ...whoa.


message 35: by Tris (new)

Tris oml im soooooooo excited!!


message 36: by Vorkosigrrl (new)

Vorkosigrrl Eugenides victorious! What do you think, will he end up running the Mede empire? :-)


twice_baked✌️ Nah but he'll whack some sense into whoever does ;)


message 38: by Jane (new)

Jane Cothron Jamie (ReadsInTrees) wrote: "Jane Cothran, are you describing the original hardcover edition that you have an ARC for?"

Yes--it was the advance reading copy for the original U.S. edition of Queen of Attolia.


message 39: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Dacyczyn I think that one DID make it into publication, Jane, unless it was tweaked from what you have. It is the same as this? https://goo.gl/images/tUi6bh


message 40: by Kristyn (new)

Kristyn Jamie (ReadsInTrees) wrote: "I first read The Thief when I was in middle school, so probably 12-13 years old, and probably a year or two after it was published. So I'm going to go ahead and say that I've basically been waiting..."
Me too! It's amazing to think we've been waiting as long as the characters.


message 41: by Rouan (new)

Rouan Jamie (ReadsInTrees) wrote: "I think that one DID make it into publication, Jane, unless it was tweaked from what you have. It is the same as this? https://goo.gl/images/tUi6bh"

I remember seeing that cover, although I'm not sure if it's on the hardcover edition I have. I will have to check when I get home.


message 42: by twice_baked✌️ (last edited Jul 18, 2018 01:26PM) (new)

twice_baked✌️ Casey wrote: "I just learned this series is as old as I am! I love that, I love the history in that, the growth that is obvious in Eugenides in that. I can't wait for the final book!"

I just learned it was a few yrs older than I am XD which feels weird


message 43: by Jane (new)

Jane Cothron Jamie (ReadsInTrees) wrote: "I think that one DID make it into publication, Jane, unless it was tweaked from what you have. It is the same as this? https://goo.gl/images/tUi6bh"

Thanks! That looks like the cover.


message 44: by Kristyn (new)

Kristyn Jane wrote: "Jamie (ReadsInTrees) wrote: "I think that one DID make it into publication, Jane, unless it was tweaked from what you have. It is the same as this? https://goo.gl/images/tUi6bh"

Thanks! That looks..."


I think I might have that copy as a library discard.


message 45: by Dolores (new)

Dolores Jefferson I am so happy another book is coming. This series is so eloquent, so true in its story telling , so warm and loving , so full of angst and fear; the queen was almost repellent yet Gens love for her made me love her. I've been reading serious books since I was 8 years old and now I'm a bit older and a grandmother and all, but I still get excited over stories told well and am happy to have the acquaintance of Meghan Whelan through her books. I like the covers too even the old ones.
Thanks, Marie, for sending this notice.


message 46: by Rouan (new)

Rouan Jane wrote: "Jamie (ReadsInTrees) wrote: "I think that one DID make it into publication, Jane, unless it was tweaked from what you have. It is the same as this? https://goo.gl/images/tUi6bh"

Thanks! That looks..."


I checked my copy and that is the cover I have.


message 47: by Jamie (last edited Jul 19, 2018 01:15PM) (new)

Jamie Dacyczyn I own all of the covers, except the Korean, Chinese, and Indonesian ones. Here's a pic of just my Thief and QoA editions.... https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Vy...


message 48: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Gadberry Johnson I love, love, love these books (3 verbs in a row is probably also frowned upon, but I'm doing it)! I'm a librarian and try hard not to bring my personal bias into my recommendations... but Gen is my absolute favorite.

Every time we get a new book in this series, I think I can't possibly be lucky enough to get another. I can't wait to read this one!


message 49: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I am absolutely thrilled to have this book to look forward to. The thief has been one of my favorite heroes forever. I cannot believed that we readers are to be rewarded with another book in this wonderful series! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Megan!


message 50: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Dacyczyn I feel like now is a good time to say that everyone in this thread should be Goodreads friends with each other if we're not already. And if you're not already a part of Sounis, make a LiveJournal account specifically for that reason and come join us: https://sounis.livejournal.com/


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