Review: A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner

When I was a little girl, I used to finish a book and turn around and read it all over again.  The Little Princess, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Travel Far, Pay No Fare.  I’m not talking about rereading (I still do loads of rereading), but finishing a book and flipping it over and starting all over again, because you can’t stand the idea of leaving it behind right away.  And look, I was serious about Megan Whalen Turner before.  I loved those books.  When I finished the first three and got the fourth from my ever-obliging big sister, I left the fourth one lying around for several days while I reread the first three.  All of them.  In order.  Picking up on details I hadn’t noticed the first time through.  Only then did I carry on with A Conspiracy of Kings.

A Conspiracy of Kings is about Sophos – remember Sophos?  Darling studious bookworm Sophos from The Thief?  Don’t keep reading this review right now, if you haven’t read the foregoing three books, because I can’t really talk about A Conspiracy of Kings without spoiling the books that have come before.  Again I say unto you, stop reading this review and go do something else, if you have not read Megan Whalen Turner’s other books.

Are you gone?

Okay then.  So Sophos, heir to the king of Sounis, is on the run.  The barons of Sounis and the ambassadors of the Mede are making trouble for Sophos, necessitating a flight to Attolia, where his old friend Gen is now the King.  The book opens with Sophos, whom Gen has believed dead, finally reaching the sanctuary of Attolia – well, relative sanctuary, given that the country of which Sophos is king is at war with the country of which Gen is king.

I’ve read several reviews of A Conspiracy of Kings that expressed regret at the way the narrative shifts away from Gen.  Now look, I enjoy spending time with Gen as much as anybody, but I thought Sophos was a splendid point-of-view character.  In this book, Turner deals with the question of choosing the sort of person you want to be: Sophos has the opportunity to decide whether he wants to go back to his old life.  Or in fact he has several opportunities, and until he’s practically forced by circumstance, he doesn’t step up and take responsibility.  It’s only when he’s got his back against the wall that he makes the decision to grow up.  Sophos.  Bless him.

(Anyway, there’s plenty of Gen.)

What can I say?  Everything I loved about the foregoing books, I loved about this one.  I loved seeing Sophos grow up, especially because he comes to terms with doing things he’d rather not do for the sake of his country, without losing his (can I say this and not make you gag? Only I can’t think of any other way of putting it) sweetness of spirit.  There were further political machinations, and a gaining-the-throne scene that pleased me by being quite unlike Sophos and yet perfectly in line with the arc of his character development.

Have you read this yet?  Do you think it would be a good thing to have one of the queens narrate the fifth book that Megan Whalen Turner is undoubtedly engaged in writing at this very moment so that she can release it tomorrow and fill my life with yet more joy?  I suppose it would be tricky to have Attolia as a POV character, given that she’s so buttoned up, but I think Eddis would be an interesting narrator.

Other reviews:

Book Lust & The Written World
Stella Matutina
Charlotte’s Library (incidentally expresses exactly how I felt when I started reading this book!)
Book Nut
Angieville
A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Dear Author
One Librarian’s Book Reviews

Did I miss yours?  Tell me if so, and I will add a link!

Immoderately gushing about Megan Whalen Turner

May I begin in justifying myself slightly for the fact that I have not read these books until now although my sister Anna read and recommended them, like, a decade ago?

When I really love a book, I want everyone who I think would like it to read it so that they can love it also.  To this end, I will wheedle and cajole and sometimes manipulatively give the book to them as a gift so they will feel guilty for not reading it.  It’s for their own good.  In short, I cannot rest until the joy has been spread.  I am an evangelist for the books (and films and TV shows) that I love.  I know that marketing principle where you have to remind people a whole bunch of times before you can expect them to take action, and I do it.  Only because I want my loved ones to have the same joyous reading experiences that I have had.

My sister Anna does not operate quite in the same way.  From what I can observe, she has a more live and let live philosophy.  If she tells me a book is good, and I then don’t read it, it’s possible she may never bring it up again.  If she tells me a book is good, and I start it and don’t like it, she will probably leave it at that.  SO NOT LIKE ME!  I will pester the crap out of people until they give my books another chance.  Anna, not so much.  So I can’t always tell from her recommendations the difference between a book that is good and my life is empty without it, and a book that is, you know, fine.

(Or else possibly Anna and I act the exact same way in regard to books we love madly, and I am making up a lot of self-justifying claptrap because I feel that without a reason for my not having read these books years ago the universe is too bleak and wretched to be bothered with.)

I do not necessarily know that your life is empty without Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.  But mine was.  These books – The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings, which I have not yet read – are set in an ancient-Greece-like (but not ancient Greece) fantasy world with religion and mythology and politics.  They are made up of pure win.  They make me want to stride up and down gesturing energetically and shouting about how good they are.  The politics are twisty and complex and feel realistic but do not bore me to tears.  The characters grow and change, and when they interact with each other, there is all this boilingly tense subtext underneath the actual words that they are saying.

A very true story about me: I love subtext.  I’m mad for subtext.  Considering the epic crush I have on words, I am mighty appreciative of things left unsaid.  Subtext.  The simmery-er, the better.  When I find an author who can make me quiver with tension during a scene where it’s just two people sitting around talking, I’m hers for life.  (Or his, of course!)  I will overlook a lot of flaws in a book that knows how to play its subtext.

Take, for example, Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, a very imperfect book, God knows, but I love it quite passionately for its dialogue, every line of which means at least one thing other than the actual words being said.  Or take nearly any scene between Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers’s mysteries, and you will see it is rife with beautiful, crackling subtext: see in particular the scene by the riverbank in Gaudy Night.  You know that one?  Damn good scene.

Megan Whalen Turner is also very good at this, so I may have been too high on subtext to spot any flaws.  I have seen reviews that found the plots of (some of) the books in this series slow, but I didn’t mind.  I was too busy enjoying the lovely character interactions.  The central character is a person with a tendency towards self-concealment, and many of the twists in the plot arise from your (or other characters’) (or both) not knowing him as well as you think you do.  This is a very cool kind of plot twist – the kind that makes you go back and reevaluate actions and words that you thought you understood the first time around but you really did not.  (Unless you’re me.  If you’re me, you did. I sneakily find out plot twists ahead of time by causing my sister to tell them to me.)

(While I’m gushing, can I get some love for the phrase “plot twist”? I dunno who came up with that, but that’s a brilliant phrase for it!  It makes a wonderful image in my mind!  TWIST.)

I guess since I have gone on and on about them, I should briefly say what these books are about. They are in a series, and since I know other people who are not me dislike spoilers, I don’t want to say too much about any one book and spoil the ones that came before it.  Very vaguely then: The Queen’s Thief books are about a thief called Eugenides (Gen), who lives in a section of the world that is not altogether unlike ancient Greece (before Alexander the Great, this would be).  For one reason and another, Gen finds himself mixed up with people in high places, and political turmoil, of varying scope and consequence throughout the several books, ensues.

I gobbled up The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia this weekend all in one mighty gobble, and then I had to wait and borrow A Conspiracy of Kings from my sister.  I hope the fourth book lives up to the previous ones and does not wrap up everything up tidily but rather leaves many things open for future books that Megan Whalen Turner is going to write swiftly and release promptly.  Thanks to Memory for reading these recently – your reviews tipped me over the edge!

Once again there are too many other reviews of these books for my slow old computer to load and then link to, plus I am tired and want to go to bed early tonight, so if you are yearning to see what the blogosphere thinks of Megan Whalen Turner I refer you to the glorious and oft-consulted-by-me Book Blogs Search Engine.

Because it is rich with mythology and features the gods, I am counting these books towards the Once Upon a Time Challenge, yet another challenge about which I have in no way forgotten.  How could I?  It has such a pretty button!

So how about it, everyone?  Are you a book evangelist?  Once you have made your initial recommendation to your loved ones about a book you adored, do you keep knocking on their doors in suits with copies of the book in your hands, or do you shut up and leave them alone to read whatever they darn well feel like reading?  How good is the phrase “plot twist”?  Are you, too, a subtext junkie?