As part of the Light and Round (L&R) Project, I’m going to urge you to read The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whelan Turner. In fact, I’m going to insist. I might even beg.
It’s that good.
When I decided to write this review for L&R a few days ago, I brought the books up from their place of honor on my “favorite books” shelf. I started flipping through them, thinking about what to write. And now I’m halfway through the second book again, for maybe the sixth time.
The middle two books of the series – “The Queen of Attolia” and “The King of Attolia” – are two of the most perfect young adult books I have ever read. The characters are living, breathing people; the plots twist and turn with such clever mastery that you always feel surprised but never manipulated; the foreshadowing is subtle; the dialogue is realistic but just formal enough for you to believe that the characters are educated nobles in some far-off ancient land.
As a reader, I never want these stories to end, which brings me back to them again and again even though I know all the secrets. As a writer, I long to create something as well-crafted, as intricate, as bold, as daring, as fully realized, as, well, nearly perfect, as these books – the middle two in particular.
I want to tell you everything about them, but I don’t want to tell you anything. I want you to enjoy them the way I did, discovering their secrets slowly, page by page, moment by moment. You deserve that. I want you to approach the series the way you would open a brand new, giant box of chocolates: inhale the aroma, slide your fingers across the slick, shiny tops, guess at the wonders within each perfect little shape.
Here is what I can tell you without spoiling the fun: This series is a YA fantasy set in an area that is vaguely like ancient Macedonia/Greece/Turkey with its polytheistic religions, vast overland and sea-going trade, and complex politics. But don’t look for historical parallels; this world is entirely Turner’s own. Two kingdoms, Attolia and Sounis, are in constant competition for dominance in this part of the world. The tiny mountaintop kingdom of Eddis lies between them and survives mainly because of its control of the trade route and their water supply. As the series opens, Attolia and Eddis are ruled by queens; the king of Sounis wants to marry Eddis’ queen; and lurking in the background, the Mede Empire would like nothing better than to annex the entire area for themselves and dispense with all three kingdoms.
Into this delicate balance of power, we throw the game-changer, the off-balancer, the wild card of the Queen’s Thief of Eddis, Eugenides. (In this Greek-style world, English rules of pronunciation do not apply, and his name is yoo-GEN-i-dees.)
The position of royal Thief is hereditary – Eugenides took over from his grandfather – and the name is also honorary, taken from the god of thieves. Eugenides is confident, mischievous, stubborn, incorrigible, fiercely loyal, and passionate: a great character around which to build a series. He is also smaller than and younger than everyone around him, putting him at an apparent disadvantage in just about every situation. His actions and words are frequently at odds with his thoughts and intentions, sometimes of necessity due to his role as Thief and sometimes just because of who he is. Sometimes you, the reader, will know this is happening, and sometimes you won’t until much later; sometimes you’ll know why, and sometimes you won’t until much later. These double dealings are part of the delicious fun of reading these books.
I read the second book, “The Queen of Attolia,” first, without even realizing that there was “The Thief” (a Newbery Honor book). There was nothing in the writing to suggest that there had been a previous book; the characters interacted as though they had all lived through things together before, which is a tremendous and subtle difference. I almost want to suggest to you to read it that way as well, because if there is one critique I have of Turner’s writing, it is that she is stronger in third person than in first person, and “The Thief” is written in first person. And the last thing I want is for you to pick up “The Thief” and go, “Meh, I don’t really like first person.” If you don’t love “The Thief” by twenty-five pages in, put it down and read “The Queen” instead. You will tear through it like that box of chocolates I dangled in front of you before and rip through to the next layer, “The King of Attolia” and on to “A Conspiracy of Kings” without stopping. I promise you, eventually you’ll end up going back to read “The Thief,” because you’ll want to know everything about Eugenides.
Dark & Edgy factors: Imprisonment, abuse/bullying, torture, mutilation, peril, emotional torment, war
Light & Round factors: Love, devotion, fidelity, loyalty, fealty, friendship, humor, skill, right vs. might, wits vs. stupidity
“Steal peace, Eugenides…”