The King of Attolia is the third book in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. The first two books in this YA fantasy series are The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, respectively. A Conspiracy of Kings, the fourth book, came out in hardcover earlier this year. According to Goodreads, a fifth book is planned but it has no title listed and I haven’t been able to find any further details on it.
Since it’s better to know less about the plot when reading these books, I’m going to skip the usual plot description and just move right on to thoughts on this book and how it compares to the rest of the books in the series. This review is going to be at least a little vague to try to avoid spoilers.
The King of Attolia picks up shortly after the end of the second book. I’d recommend reading the books in order even though the second and third books in the Queen’s Thief series are far more mature and better crafted than the first. Reading the second or third book first would completely spoil the first book, which is a good story although it takes reading to the end to fully appreciate it. The Thief, which won the Newbery Honor Award in 1997, seems like a straightforward quest fantasy until the twist ending and is the simplest of the three books. The next book, The Queen of Attolia, has more complexity as it deals with both nations and individuals while leaving so much open to interpretation until the end. It remains my favorite in the series since it had the most emotional resonance with me, and so much of the wording was just perfect – the way it could have double meanings and kept me guessing about which one was correct. The King of Attolia is smaller scale and mostly focused on individuals and political scheming. While I very much enjoyed it and wanted the next book after finishing it, it didn’t have me rereading and savoring every word the same way as The Queen of Attolia did – but like the previous book it did leave me very impressed with Megan Whalen Turner’s storytelling ability.
The prose is not beautifully written, more to the point than flashy, but Turner excels at weaving a story that is simply told yet elaborate. Much of the story’s power is in what she chooses to reveal and when, giving parts of the story ambiguity until the conclusion. Readers of the previous books will have a better idea of what is going on in The King of Attolia since they know what to expect unlike the main narrator, who begins with no knowledge of Eugenides’ character and only observes what he sees in this book. Although he does suspect pretty close to the beginning that Eugenides may not be quite as dense as rumors say, he still does not know the full extent of his capabilities. Even with several clues that more is going on behind the scenes than we are shown, the significance of some scenes and how it will play out remains mysterious for quite some time. With this technique, Turner takes a story that is mostly political and character-oriented without a lot of action and makes it suspenseful.
Mystery also adds to the allure of the central figure in the books, Eugenides. He’s not completely unknown by the end (or to those who have read the other books), but in spite of being the person the entire story revolves around, we never really get to know a lot of what he’s thinking about. Most of the story is told from the perspective of a member of the Queen’s Guard, Costis, and he tells us what he thinks of Eugenides. There are even scenes in which we see what some of the other characters think of Eugenides, such as Relius the Secretary of the Guard. Even though there is occasionally a part that involves Eugenides without showing him from the viewpoint of a different character, it just relates conversations and actions. There’s a certain amount of separation between the reader and Eugenides, and like these other viewpoint characters, we observe Eugenides but never really know what’s going on inside his head. This was even largely true in The Thief, which was told from the perspective of Eugenides, since he wasn’t exactly a reliable narrator and omitted a lot of important details. He’s not exactly known for truthfulness:
She released a sigh of frustration and asked reluctantly for the truth. “Were you lying?”
“I never lie,” he said piously. “About what?”
“The sand, the snake.”
For a young man who never lied, he seemed surprisingly unoffended by the question. [Attolia and Eugenides, pp. 24]
In spite of the fact that I don’t feel that I know Eugenides as well as I’d like to, I think it really works in these books as it adds some to his mystique. He’s one of those manipulative, larger than life characters who seems too good at everything to be true, and leaving him a little mysterious makes it easier to see him on that pedestal. Since we don’t know a lot about him, it makes it appear more likely that maybe there is something he doesn’t do right – but because we don’t get his unadulterated perspective, perhaps we just don’t get to see those parts. Yet in this book he’s also easy to sympathize with because he still clearly has problems – recurring nightmares, homesickness, and the side effect that getting what he desired also forced him into a role he doesn’t want. There’s a theme of inability to escape fate that makes him much easier to empathize with.
Fantasy readers may want to be aware that this is light on the fantasy – the main fantastic elements in all three books involves somewhat brief appearances by gods. The setting is a pseudo-Greece with a similar but entirely different pantheon of gods and goddesses, and there is at least one story told in each book involving a tale involving deities or the world mythology.
While The Queen of Attolia remains my personal favorite in this series, The King of Attolia is nearly as good with a fun storyline, suspense, scheming, and great characters. It’s a very clever book with some great dialogue, and I finished it with a combination of satisfaction and sadness – satisfaction because it was so engaging and sadness because there’s only one book left in the series to read.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.
Reviews of other books in this series:
Other reviews of The King of Attolia: