The Queen of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner
368pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.27/5

The Queen of Attolia is the second book in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Currently, there are four books in this YA fantasy series in the following order: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings, which was just released in hardcover in March. The Thief can currently be read online free of charge.

Warning: Although I did try to keep descriptions at least somewhat vague (and kept the plot details to a minimum to try to avoid spoiling this book), there may still be hints that could lead to spoilers for The Thief in this review. If you have not yet read The Thief and are interested in this series, you may want to just skip this review other than perhaps the last paragraph, which sums up basic thoughts on it.

Once again, Eugenides is sneaking around – this time in the castle of the Queen of Attolia. Although he manages to make it outside the palace, he is caught in an alley and returned to the queen for judgment. Initially, the queen decides to have him executed, but fearing that a quick death would be too kind to her rival Eddis, Attolia instead brings back an old punishment for thieves. She then has him returned to Eddis, inciting a war.

While I enjoyed The Thief, I didn’t absolutely love it and didn’t quite understand all the rave reviews this series gets – until reading The Queen of Attolia. The Thief is a quest fantasy with a great twist at the end, but this second volume starts with the twists much earlier and just keeps getting better all the way to the very last sentence, which is a wonderfully satisfying conclusion. It’s a darker story and much tighter than its predecessor, which sometimes digressed into too much travelogue for my taste. This novel also has the emotional connection that The Thief was mostly lacking, and I found myself completely invested in seeing what happened to all the different characters. The Queen of Attolia was an improvement over The Thief in just about every way.

Unlike the first book, The Queen of Attolia is told from the third person perspective of multiple characters, including Eugenides, Attolia and Eddis. Having so many point of view characters made for a richer experience and the narration was still very sneaky even without being solely from Eugenides’ point of view. There are still bits that are deliberately left out until later, although they are revealed more throughout the story instead of all being saved up for the end like in The Thief. There were a couple of reveals that were predictable, but even knowing what was going to happen did not ruin those parts at all because the way they were handled was superb. Every little detail and conversation was full of significance and I found myself going back and rereading the same part two or three times before forging on ahead just because it was so good. Because there is a tendency for parts to potentially have more than one meaning and so many of the little touches are important, this book would be a great one to reread.

This novel was more about the politics and the characters than the previous installment and there is some great dialogue and interaction (and a wonderful romance!). Eugenides is still full of surprises as a skillful thief, even when his talents are applied to something very different than the object obtained in the first book. For in this novel he is asked to steal peace between kingdoms during a turbulent time between many nations, particularly Attolia and Eddis. The leaders of these two countries are both fascinating women who play much bigger roles than in the first novel. Both the Queen of Attolia and the Queen of Eddis are competent rulers, but they are both very different women shaped by their different cultures and political situations. Yet both are perfectly capable of holding their own even if they do not have the same style of leadership.

The main fantasy aspect is the setting, which is similar to ancient Greece with a pantheon similar to the Greek gods and goddesses. Attolians tend to view the gods and goddesses as superstition, but Eugenides takes them very seriously.

The Queen of Attolia is much more mature than the first book in this series with a focus on political maneuvering and characters. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s completely absorbing, it’s full of both heartbreak and joy – it’s one for the keeper shelf.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a birthday present from my mile-long wish list.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Other reviews of The Queen of Attolia:

For reviews, I’m working on a review of The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, which will be followed by Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews and Servant of a Dark God by John Brown. I’m taking a break from reading Feed by Mira Grant to read Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder because I have read very few of the authors who are going to be at Book Expo America. So I picked a book by one of the authors who was going to be there that I had unread on my shelf (and that looked like something I could have read by the time I go).

This week I received one review copy and bought one book. Both of these are books I am very much looking forward to reading.

Stealing Fire by Jo Graham

Jo Graham writes historical fantasy, and I really enjoyed her retelling of The Aeneid entitled Black Ships (review). So I am very much looking forward to reading this book, which is told from the perspective of a soldier of Alexander the Great after Alexander’s death, and I probably “squeed” a bit when I found it in my mailbox. Stealing Fire is due for release on May 25, although it appears to be available on Amazon now.

Alexander the Great’s soldier, Lydias of Miletus, has survived the final campaigns of the king’s life. He now has to deal with the chaos surrounding his death. Lydias throws his lot in with Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals who has grabbed Egypt as his personal territory. Aided by the eunuch Bagoas, the Persian archer Artashir, and the Athenian courtesan Thais, Ptolemy and Lydias must take on all the contenders in a desperate adventure whose prize is the fate of a white city by the sea, and Alexander’s legacy.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

After reading The Queen of Attolia, my new favorite book read so far this year, I knew I had to get a copy of the next book. This book is longer and it includes a short story! I was actually very happy that it was longer because I just loved The Queen of Attolia so much that I wanted it to never end.

As a side note, right now the first book in this series, The Thief, can be read for free online.

I’m leaving out the blurb because there are spoilers for earlier books and this is a series that you do NOT want spoiled. I’m struggling with my review of the second book for just that reason… There’s so much I want to say but I’m trying to decide how much is too much information.


Last night the Nebula Award winners for this year were announced. The winners in each category are as follows:

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books, Sept. 2009)

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s – Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, June 2009)

“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,”
Eugie Foster (Interzone, Feb. 2009)

Short Story
“Spar,” Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct. 2009)

Ray Bradbury Award
District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug. 2009)

Andre Norton Award
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making,
Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, June 2009)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a free story that is available to read online. The short story “Spar” can also be read online.

Congratulations to all the winners! I’m especially glad to see Catherynne M. Valente win an award since she is a very talented writer based on the novel by her I have read (The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden). I haven’t read any of the other authors, but I’m starting to think I should read The Windup Girl and sort of wish I’d picked it up when I saw it at Borders yesterday.

The Poison Throne
by Celine Kiernan
512pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.09/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.08/5

The Poison Throne is the first book in the Moorehawke trilogy by Celine Kiernan. The second book in this fantasy series, The Crowded Shadows, is already out in some countries including the author’s native Ireland. It will be coming out in the US in July 2010 even though The Poison Throne just came out there in April. The final book, The Rebel Prince, will be released for the first time in the fall 2010 (October 18 in the US).

At first, fifteen-year-old Wynter Moorehawke is ecstatic to be returning home after spending a long time in the North with her father, who is now in poor health. However, she finds that much has changed during her absence. She finds it strange when a cat runs away from her when she tries to speak to it, which never would have happened when she was the King’s Cat-Keeper. Later, she tries to talk to a ghost she used to be on friendly terms with and he also refuses to converse with her.

Once she is reunited with her friend Razi, the king’s oldest bastard son by an Arab woman, she learns some of the truth – the king has been acting very strangely. He sent away his son Alberon, the heir to the throne, and Razi suspects there is more to the explanation for his departure than he has been told. Also, the king has decreed there are no ghosts and he had all of Wynter’s cats poisoned as if he were afraid they may reveal a big secret.

Although Wynter is horrified, the situation only gets worse as she settles back into court life. The king declares Alberon to be “mortuus in vita” (dead in life) and has every trace of him removed. Furthermore, he forces Razi to become his new heir, even though he does not want the role both due to loyalty to his brother and a desire to escape politics and practice medicine. Wynter may be the only person who can discover the reasons the kingdom has been cast in turmoil – but it may cost her.

The Poison Throne did not hook me immediately and there were a few issues with it, but it was an entertaining story that kept me reading after getting through a few chapters. It was a simple, straightforward story and did not strike me as anything exceptional or out of the ordinary, but it was absorbing once it got going. The novel takes place in an alternate France during the 1400s, but I wouldn’t have recognized it as Europe if not for the fact that it mentioned the Moroccos a few times. There are a few differences between this setting and world history in addition to ghosts and talking cats.

The main factor that prevented me from enjoying it earlier was my early impression of the main character, Wynter. In the first couple of chapters she seemed likable enough, then she found her old friend Razi and was quite appalled to meet his new friend, Christopher. At first, she mistakes him for an acrobat, then she decides he is a rake since he was quite obviously just with one of the women nearby. From one perspective, I can understand her beliefs about him, but she seemed very quick to judge him very harshly as the type of person who used everyone, including Razi, based on this:

She found herself glaring up at this man, her rage such that she made no effort to hide it. I’ve met lots of people. Just. Like. You.

You saw them all the time in palace life, people who latched on. People who used. They would find someone close to the throne and befriend them, usually separating them from the people who cared about them, before bleeding them dry. Not that Razi was any type of idiot. But Wynter had seen fear, isolation and need make fools of the wisest men. I’m watching you, she thought as the young man curled his lip at her in a very speculative smile. I have your measure. [pp. 36]

It’s one thing to jump to conclusions in one’s head, but Wynter made no attempts to be polite toward Christopher and wait to see if he really was the despicable example of human nature she thought him to be even though Razi was obviously fond of him. She was jealous and petty and quite rude to him, and it made it hard for me to warm up to her early on. Throughout the rest of the book, she doesn’t tend to act this way, but she seemed rather annoying and immature during this particular episode.

In spite of this, I did generally like the characters although they did confuse me at times and Wynter did remain my least favorite. She had a loyalty to those she cared about and a desire to seek that truth that I admired, but she was also the least interesting as she largely seemed to be lacking in importance until near the end – until that point, she just seemed to be the person who tied everyone together.

Christopher was my favorite of the bunch and seemed the most real. Wynter’s judgment of him was not completely inaccurate as he was a bit of a womanizer, but he was also caring, the most vulnerable and the most open. As Wynter often observed (and worried about), he didn’t play the court games and he just seemed the most real to me, as well as the one who seemed to act most true to his character. I found Razi’s actions a bit confusing at times – it seemed like he only did extremes. He was sometimes very, almost sickeningly, good with his treatment of his friends (which could describe almost everyone in this book), but he also displayed a cruel streak several times, including once with one of those same friends. It could be argued that he was trying to do what he thought was best, but even with that explanation, I felt some his behavior didn’t quite ring true.

By the end, the question of why exactly the king has turned into such a harsh ruler is still unanswered, although there are plenty of hints and part of the story is revealed. Some glimpses of goodness leave one wondering just what made the king turn into this tyrant who would have his own son erased from history, and I look forward to finding out more about what happened and the reason behind these actions.

The Poison Throne is a fun, easy to read book with a rather intriguing mystery in what has changed during Wynter’s absence from the kingdom. At times, a couple of the protagonists seem to behave out of character, but one of them was sympathetic and likable. In spite of any issues, it kept me wondering what would happen next and I would like to read the next volume in the series.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: The publisher sent me a copy.

Other Reviews:

The Praxis
by Walter Jon Williams
448pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.65/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.77/5

The Praxis is the first book in the (completed!) Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy by Walter Jon Williams. The second book in this space opera/military science fiction series is The Sundering, and the final book is Conventions of War.

The immortal Shaa have conquered the galaxy with the singular goal of bringing all races together to follow the truth of the Praxis. Despite their best efforts, each Shaa has found they have been losing their recent memories and have been unable to enjoy the results of their dominion. One by one, the Shaa have been dying and now only one of them remains, Anticipation of Victory, who was named when the plans for Shaa conquest were being formed. The final Shaa has decided he has done all he can to ensure nothing ever changes after his death and that it is time to begin preparations for his departure from the universe.

Unfortunately for Lieutenant Gareth Martinez, his fleet commander is undergoing the great honor of representing his family as a sacrifice on the day Anticipation of Victory dies – which Martinez views as suicidal to his own career. However, Martinez becomes famous when he sees a runaway yacht during a race and figures out a possible way to stop it. His idea is successfully executed by the cadet Caroline Sula. Although it is too late for the pilot by the time the rescue is carried out, Sula is awarded for her bravery and effectiveness at capturing the vessel. Two such competent people may be just what the Empire needs with the impending end of the Shaa reign.

Writing a description for this book was very difficult since it is the beginning of a trilogy and I feel like the pivotal, important moment didn’t happen until close to the end. So even though this is mentioned on the back cover of the book, I consider it a spoiler and am leaving it out of the plot summary. In spite of this not occurring for quite a while and feeling like somewhat of a setup for the rest of the books in the series, I found this novel mostly held my interest pretty well – there was some action, but it was mostly politics and character development, which I prefer to read about anyway.

There are two main point of view characters, Gareth Martinez and Lady Caroline Sula, and I really liked both of them even if (or perhaps because) they were rather flawed. Both of them were intelligent, competent people, but both of them also had a drive to succeed that could make them seem ruthless (Sula more so than Martinez but they were both trying to climb the hierarchy any way they could). Yet I found both very sympathetic, particularly as they both were striving to be successful with careers in a military that seemed rather pointless:

“Any luck in finding a good posting?” Sula asked.

“No. Not yet.”

“Does it have to be a staff job?”

Martinez shook his head. “I don’t mind ship duty. But I’d like it to be a step up, not a step back or sideways.” He put his arms on the table and sighed. “And it would be nice to be in a position to actually accomplish something. I have this ridiculous compulsion not to be totally useless. But that’s difficult in the service, isn’t it? Some days it’s a struggle to find a point in it all. Do you know what I mean?”

Sula looked at him and nodded. “We’re in a military that hasn’t fought a real war in thirty-four hundred years, and most of its engagements before and since consisted of raining bombs on helpless populations. Yes, I know what you mean.” She cocked her head, silver-gilt hair brushing her shoulders. “Occasionally we pull off a nice rescue,” she said. “Though we hardly need cruisers or battleships for that, do we? But all those big ships make terrific platforms for enhancing the grandeur and self-importance of senior captains and fleet commanders, and grandeur and self-importance are what holds the empire together.” [pp. 122 – 123]

Have to love Sula’s boldness. She’s a cadet and the last member of the Sula family, who were once important and very rich until they were executed for attempted embezzlement. Now she’s lost a lot and can only have a military job, although she is determined to rank first in the lieutenant exams and make a name for herself that way. But there’s a lot more to Sula than meets the eye, as is revealed through the bits and pieces of her back story that are included throughout the novel. Although it’s obvious from close to the beginning how it ended, it’s still a rather interesting story

Martinez is from a wealthy family, but they are not the highest people in the hierarchy and some look down on him for his uncultured accent. He is brighter and more efficient than most of those he works with and one has to feel sorry for him, especially when he ends up working for a man whose main concern is having the best football team in the fleet.

Much of the plot is concerned with politics, such as how both Martinez and Sula attempt to rise within the hierarchy. There is a subplot of a marriage arranged solely for the purpose of bettering the Martinez family, and there are quite a few dinners and parties and lots of emphasis on social roles.

Other than the characters and politics, I also really enjoyed the society developed and maintained by the Shaa. The Shaa are fanatical about upholding The Praxis and using it to wage a universal crusade to convert the masses. Once they have a people following their laws, they have no qualms whatsoever about making the punishment far worse than the crime and harming those who are innocent to ensure that anyone else will think twice before committing the same mistake. They do not allow AIs, genetic engineering or immortality and enforce a rigid social structure. Where the Shaa and the tenets of The Praxis came from remain a mystery and hopefully there will be more about this in the sequels.

Any complaints about this book are fairly minor. There were some slow parts and it did take me a little while to get into it after the prologue and the first chapter (which were great). The parts about The Praxis fascinated me, but there were few enough of those that it wasn’t until I started to get to know Martinez and Sula that I really started to warm up to it. Some parts were fairly predictable, but they were so obvious that must have been intentional and the journey was interesting enough that it didn’t really matter anyway. Also, it felt like it did take most of the book to get to what I assume is the main conflict in the trilogy, but the rest of the story entertained me enough that it didn’t really matter a whole lot to me.

The Praxis is a promising start to the Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy. The characters, political situations and society were all fascinating enough to make up for the few slow parts, and I look forward to reading the second book.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

One of the reasons I read fewer books in April may have been the fact that I spent a fair amount of my reading time on samples of books. I meant to talk about some of these in my April reading post but did not since I was desperately trying to finish it before our Internet connection died yet again. And since I have added nothing to the leaning pile this week and am still struggling with the review I’m writing, I figured I may as well write it now.

Toward the beginning of April, I got an iPad so I’ve downloaded quite a few free samples to read from both iBooks and the Kindle app. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if I’m interested in a book from the amount of text provided since it can take a while to get into a book. But there were some I found sucked me in right away.

One that I would love to finish is Karin Lowachee’s Warchild. Although I thought the latest book by her, The Gaslight Dogs, was somewhat good but not something I was crazy about, I still wanted to try the first book in her science fiction trilogy since those are the books by her I’ve always heard about. Warchild got me hooked immediately and seemed very well-written – when I get around to trying to read a full e-book, this will most likely be my first e-book purchase. It was easily the sample I read that impressed me the most.

Other samples that made me want to read the rest:

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I also read samples of Embers by Laura Bickle, Darkborn by Alison Sinclair and Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. There may be a few more that I’m forgetting about.

Do you ever read book samples? Have you read any of these books and if so do you think the beginning is indicative of the entire book? Or did some of these take longer to get really good?