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?