Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

I rarely read Young Adult books. I don't really know why... I guess it's harder to believe in the HEA ending when the characters are so young. From time to time though, I will pick up one because of a recommendation. That's what happened with The Thief. I first heard of The Thief on Jennie's blog (here) and it stuck in my mind. Partly because it was fantasy (it kind of reminded me a bit of the Poison Study premises... just a wee bit :P). Then, for March, the bookstore's special was 20% off on YA books, so I picked it up along with the two sequels, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia.

Here is my review of the series. Few warnings though. First, beware, there will be spoilers. I will try to write the review of The Thief without any, but for the rest, I really can't go into any details without spoiling ^_^; Also, when I read the series, I did something very bad ^_^; I started reading The Thief, but got curious. I thought King of Attolia was the last book, so I read the end - just to see what happened. Of course, I've already read spoilers over at Dear Author, so... One thing led to the other and I finished King of Attolia... Then, I went back to read Queen of Attolia and finally, The Thief. So yeah, I didn't read it in order. Oups. So perhaps my view of the books is a bit different than what it should be... Still the series is excellent :)

Also, before going onto the review, I'd like to discuss a bit the world setting of the series. This series is fantasy and it sets in a world from the author's imagination. The world is heavily influenced by Greece, but is not exactly a Greek setting. The time period is also very difficult to pin-point, since there are guns, but soldiers seem to use their sword more. Overall, it's a very interesting and appealing world. I like the feel I get from it... It's very "ancient" period time, what with the three countries and their queens and kings and trying to take over each other, gain control over each other, but with a touch of modernity. All in all, I like the setting very much, but wished there was a map included that would allow the readers a better visualization.

The Thief
published by Hapercollins in October 1997

"I can steal anything."

After Gen's bragging lands him in the king's prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king's scholar, the magus, needs the thief's skill for a seemingly impossible task - to steal a hidden treasure from another land.

To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.

Genre: fantasy
Series: Queen's Thief, book #1

The Story: Gen is a thief who bragged that he could steal anything. After stealing the King of Sounis's seal, he ended up in prison. He is released by the Magus, because the King's advisor needs Gen's skills as a thief to steal the Hamiathe's Gift, a legendary stone that will ensure an alliance between the countries of Sounis and Eddis if it is successfully obtained. Thus, Gen embarks on a long journey with the Magus, his two students (the Elder Useless and the Younger Useless LOL) and Pol, their bodyguard. Their journey will lead them to Attolia, another powerful country which is ruled by a ruthless queen.

My Opinion: This was a great read :) The whole story is narrated by Gen and it was very enjoyable :) Gen is indeed a trickster and a thief, but he's also very smart and skilled. I know some readers didn't enjoy his character so much, because they thought he was selfish... However, I felt his character really fit his personality and the storyline. Gen is petulant :) He is very clever, kind and loyal. He does have a smart mouth that he sometimes should shut, but that's all part of his personality :) All in all, he's a very interesting and intriguing character. You do realize that there is more to him than meet the eye and you want to know what he is hiding :) I liked the other characters as well and I thought they were well developed. I liked the Magus. He is the king advisor and has the good of his country in his mind. Quite a clever person, but he still got outwitted by Gen :P

The storyline is quite interesting, but what really makes the book is the ending. The last quarter of the book had me sit on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen and if Gen, the Magus and the Younger Useless (also known as Sophos) would survive. And what about the revelation at the end? Oh my god, genius!!! I really didn't expect it and then, when you go back, you realized that the author has been dropping a clue here and there :)

As a whole, the book is even better because of Ms Turner's writing style. It's simple, but not simplistic... It's definitively not dumbed-down because it's for kids. It flows well and the pace is good :) If you're looking for a good fantasy, be sure to pick up The Thief.

Grade: B+.

*** Spoilers start here, beware***

Queen of Attolia
published by Harpercollins in April 2000

When his small mountainous country goes to war with the powerful nation of Attolia, Eugenides the thief is faced with his greatest challenge. He must steal a man, he must steal a queen, and he must steal peace.

But his greatest triumph - as well as his greatest loss - can only come if he succeeds in capturing something the Queen of Attolia may have sacrificed long ago.

Genre: fantasy
Series: Queen's Thief, book #2

The Story: So at the end of The Thief, we discover that Gen is actually Eugenides and is the Queen of Eddis's cousin as well as the queen's thief, kind of her right-hand man with lots of freedom. He can infiltrate Sounis and Attolia, the two neighboring countries, without being captured and as a result, is a dangerous man. In The Thief, Eugenides was able to successfully steal the Hamiathe's Gift no once, but twice - the first time from Attolia and the second, from the Magus of Sounis. As a result, he had secured the throne of his Queen, Eddis, and avoided a political marriage between Eddis and Sounis. However, in the process, he had made some enemy, namely the Queen of Attolia...

The story of Queen of Attolia starts with the queen of Attolia capturing Eugenides in her palace. To weaken Eddis' influence, she punishes Eugenides by cutting his right hand off and sending him back to Eddis. Fortunately, Eugenides survives, but the Queen is livid and declares war to Attolia. Sounis stands as a bystander, but will not for long. In addition, there is a Mede ambassador in the court of Attolia who seems to be getting cozy with the Queen and everyone fears an alliance between the Mede and Attolia... if it happens, then Eddis, Attolia and Sounis independence will be lost and their countries will not longer exist...

My Opinion: A great sequel to The Thief. What I particularly like in this book is that it was written in the third-person POV, so we get to see what everyone is thinking. I think it was a wise decision :)

Some will say that the book started off slowly - Eugenides lost his hand and has to recover, both physically and mentally. However, it makes sense. You don't rebound from having your hand cut so easily. I think that the author handled that part very well and was able to inject a bit of humor through Eugenides retorts. We also see Eugenides maturing in those pages and trying to build himself a new life. Then, when he realized that a war has started because of him, he snaps out of it and tries to find ways to resolve the problem. You can't help but admire Gen's mental strength.

I really enjoyed the relationships between all the characters and how they connect and the ambiguity. For example, Eugenides and the Magus are friends; however, the Magus can't deny that Eugenides is a dangerous man - he could easily assisinate the King of Sounis. On the other hand, the Magus is the advisor of Sounis and he keeps pushing for a marriage between the two countries that Eugenides does not want to see happen. Still the two men are friends.

The most interesting of course in this book is the romance that develops - rather quickly - between Eugenides and the queen of Attolia. From the beginning of the book, you know that these two characters are connected. However, I have to admit that it took me by surprise... and of course, Eugenides profession of love to Attolia completely took her by surprise. Can she trust him? Does he really love her or is it a ploy to become King? All those questions swirling.

Ms Turner is a great story-teller and she takes it a step deeper this time and gives us a heavy dose of politics, but that's what makes the whole book interesting.

My Grade: B/B+. I enjoyed Queen of Attolia very much, but I still prefer The Thief because of its great ending. However, it was still a great read and I love Eugenides! :)

King of Attolia
published by Harpercollins in January 2006

Standing alone in the doorway was the king. The ruler, anointed by priests and priestesses, of all the lands of Attolia, the official father of the people, the lord of the barons who'd one by one sworn him their oaths of obedience, the undisputed, uncontested, and absolute sovereign of the land. The swollen discoloration by his mouth closely matched the elaborated purple embroidery on his collar.

"Most people in your circumstances would kneel," said the king, and Costis, who had been staring transfixed, belatedly dropped to his knees.
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Queen's Thief, book #3

The Story: After the events in Queen of Attolia, Eugenides and the Queen of Attolia have married... and Eugenides has become King of Attolia. However, he is reluctant to assume the role. After all, he never wanted to be King, he only wanted to be with the Queen.

Unfortunately, the court does not know and understand Eugenides. They only see this younger, shorter man (than then queen) who had his hand cut by their queen. For them, this marriage is a farce, a fine revenge by Eddis to humiliate Attolia. As a result, nobody takes Eugenides seriously and his attendents "bully" him by playing some nasty tricks on him - sands in his food, food that he cannot eat because he does not have both his hands, stained clothes, etc.

However, we the readers know better. Eugenides is nobody's fool... he's a dangerous man, even with only a hand.

Costis is part of the royal guard and, well unfortunately for him, punched the King in the face. Instead of being exiled or executed, he becomes Eugenides' personal bodyguard. A difficult task, since he can't stand the man... However, bits by bits, Costis discovers the real man...

My Opinion: Definitively my favorite book of the series!! King of Attolia is simply great! Excellent! I loved it!! LOL! The court is full of fools, LOL, that's all I can say :)

The book is still written from a third-person POV and in this one, Costis is the principal narrator which was a very good idea. We get to see how the Attolians perceived the King which really does not fit our memories of Eugenides and we see the lightbulb going on in Costis mind :)

I loved the court intrigues in this book, the plots against the King and the Queen, and how Eugenides fooled everyone. It is soooo like him :) I'm also happy for Eugenides because he and his queen are happy together... and I love seeing a more adult Eugenides... although he still simpers and preens LOL :)

The second half of the book was excellent... from the attempted murder, to the fall of the House of Erondites to the fight at the end through which Costis forced the King to reveal himself :)

My Grade: A. Excellent storyline, excellent writing, excellent characters :) Just read it!

There you have it. One of the best series I've read so far in the year. Seriously, 2009 is shaping up great!! I love Ms Turner writing style in the series... I've noticed also that she doesn't bother too much with background information. For example, we know that Eugenides has siblings, but we're never introduced to them or even given a number. Also, the author limited the number of names... For example, we only know Eugenides' father as the minister of war... the Magus is still the Magus throughout the series. I find it special and refreshing. The author also doesn't waste time summarizing all the events that have happened in the past books, she jumps straight in the storyline. We're not given ages... These are all details that in other books, I'd probably want to know, but in this series, it doesn't matter. Also, don't you think the covers are gorgeous?!?! I love them sooo much!! And luckily for us, apparently, the series is not over yet... Yay!!! and the 4th installment of the series should be out next year. Oh, I wish so!