Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Hmmm, I never got around to write my Best/Worst of 2009 recap post, but if I'd have, The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner would have been in my Best Top 3 books, Top 3 New Series and Top 3 New Author :D Does this give you a clue about how much I was looking for for A Conspiracy of Kings? :P

This was being released on March 30 and well, you know my online stock indicator stalking habit :P When I went to pick this book up at the bookstore, I was really excited :D I sat outside of the bookstore, scratching away the price tag and just petting the cover (which is gorgeous by the way!) LOL.

King of Attolia was released in 2006, so it's been about 4 years between the 2 installments. I was lucky to have discovered the series last year... I only wait for about a year... but seriously, even if I'd have waited 4 years, I have to say: the wait would have been worth it :P


***Warning: This review may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk :D

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
published by HarperCollins Publisher in March 2010

Sophos, under the guidance of yet another tutor, practices his swordplay and strategizes escape scenarios should his father's villa come under attack. How would he save his mother? His sisters? Himself? Could he reach the horses in time? Where would he go? But nothing prepares him for the day armed men, silent as thieves, swarm the villa courtyard ready to kill, to capture, to kidnap. Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, disappears without a trace.

In Attolia, Eugenides, the new and unlikely king, has never stopped wondering what happened to Sophos. Nor has the Queen of Eddis. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again.

Across the small peninsula battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Darkening the horizon, the Mede Empire threatens, always, from across the sea. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Sophos, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the magus — and Eddis — sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy-ish
Series: The Queen's Thief, Book #4

The Story: During the events of King of Attolia, readers learn that the country of Sounis is in turmoil. A rebellion is going on and the king's heir, Sophos, has disappeared. As the king re-seize control of his country, there is still no word of Sophos, which bodes bad news... until they start reading A Conspiracy of Kings.

A Conspiracy of Kings opens up with Sophos and the Magus trying to catch Eugenides' attention during a royal parade in the streets of Attolia... by shooting a pea at him! Readers quickly discover that Sophos has become Sounis, i.e. the king of Sounis, after the death of his uncle and has come to negotiate peace between the two countries (Sounis and Attolia). He also needs Attolia and Eddis' aid to unclench the Mede Empire's clasp over Sounis in order for the country to remain independent... However, to help him, Eugenides, Attolia and Eddis all need Sophos to step up and really become Sounis, not just in name... and to do see, he must regain control over his barons and lead.

My Opinion: Sigh. I loved A Conspiracy of Kings. Perhaps not as much as King of Attolia, but I loved it nonetheless :) The storyline wasn't exactly what I was expecting; in some ways, it was even better than anything I could have imagined. In previous books, Ms Turner kept me on the edge of my seat, as I was unable to guess how certain schemes would result, what twists would happen. However, she definitively managed to surprise me in A Conspiracy of Kings. As a result, this was not only a good and enjoyable read, but it was also a satisfying one.

Where to begin? The story, the characters or the writing? There's so much I want to say about this book :D LOL. To me, one of the reasons The Queen's Thief series stands out so much is because of its plot and its complexity. This series is about three countries and their sovereigns, so you have plenty of court intrigues, conspiracies, alliances, double-crossing, military matters, gathering of information, etc. and Ms Turner really constructs her plot incorporating all these elements. There are tons of twists and turns and surprises which keep the readers engaged, absorbed and guessing. The author is really a master at weaving all these plots together and it is done so smoothly :) But the best thing is that Ms Turner never shies away from the complexity, even though these are categorized as Young Adult novels and she's writing for a younger audience. She doesn't dumb her plots and conspiracies down to make them easier to understand. There are so many subtleties and intricacies in her storylines and the characters, the plot is really well thought out and executed flawlessly... and A Conspiracy of Kings is no exception. The plot is truly excellent in this book with many conspiracies, schemes and so on. The whole court intrigues vibe that I got and loved from the previous books is still very present and there were many instances where I couldn't stop grinning because I got fooled by the characters and their plans :)

I was really looking forward to read A Conspiracy of Kings, but was a bit worried that my expectations were too high and the book would be a let-down. As a result, I started to look for reviews back in February if I remember correctly, and found out through them that Sophos has become a slave. Having this piece of information, it did have an effect on me and what I expected. A royal prince, heir to the throne, being forced into slavery - this is not very original right? It's been done before... and so I was expecting the tone to be darker and more violent. I imagined Sophos suffering because for sure he's been mistreated, beaten... And this is where Ms Turner surprised me LOL. Sophos was kidnapped, but not forced into slavery. Actually, you could say that Sophos chose slavery in order to escape the conspiracy.. and he was really content as a slave! I mean, you have to admit, this is quite refreshing! LOL. So I was completely wrong and A Conspiracy of Kings was not dark at all, especially compared to some events in Queen of Attolia, and this was really a pleasant surprise.

Another reason why I love these books are the characters. Surprisingly, they are very well developed. I say surprisingly, because so many things are happening in each book, but still, you do see development, growth and maturity in the characters. They also each have a distinctive personality and are all very likable. I wasn't too sure about Sophos at the beginning. He's not someone you imagine as the heir of a throne. He's not autocratic enough. Before A Conspiracy of Kings, I'd say that he was missing charisma. He's more of a beta hero, someone who enjoys studying, literature and poetry, someone that is shy and easily pushed around. At the end though, he did step up to the plate when needed and became a wonderful protagonist. He doesn't exude charisma like Eugenides, but he has some great aura. To me, it seems he finally became a man, one that would shoulder the burden and responsibilities even if he didn't want them, even if he wasn't sure he could... and he did so, not for himself, but for the people he cared and his country.
I had wanted to find a better way than shooting an unarmed man. I had wanted my barons to choose me as king because they believed in me and because they believed in my ideals as I did. But that wasn't the choice I had before me, and I had already decided that I would make them follow me any way I could. i would not stand by and let them be lost to the Mede or to Melenze or to an endless civil war where they could never be free of bloodshed until the whole country was stripped to the bare bones. I f I couldn't be Eddis, I would be Attolia. If they needed to see my uncel in me, then I would show him to them. And I would take Attolia's advice, because if I identified my enemy and destroyed him, Sounis would be safe.
To me, what makes all these sovereigns so likable and endearing is how humane they are and Ms Turner did a wonderful job enhancing their humanity to the readers. Eugenides, Attolia, Eddis and Sophos. None of them are kings and queens because they want power or simply because they can. They each found themselves pushed in that position through fate and they do their best to assume the responsibilities. Being king and queen of a country, even a prospering one, is not always a happy task. So often, you have to put your personal feelings aside and look at the grander picture when taking decisions. They do what needs to be done, even though the consequences might wound them personally. One of the best example is in the beginning of this book, when Eugenides and Sophos reunited. Eugenides is very happy that his friend is alive and well, but upon learning that Sophos has become Sounis, Eugenides apologizes... that's because Gen knows that Sounis (the country) will have to submit to Attolia in order to get peace. So many things are out of their control even though they are sovereigns... and this is a side that is not shown often in books and so it's great to see it here, in The Queen's Thief series.

I thought the narration in this book was also very clever. Some parts were told in the 3rd person POV, mostly the scenes involving Attolia, Eddis and Sounis; however,  Sophos' story - what happened to him when he was kidnapped and when he returned to become king - was narrated by Sophos himself to Eddis. The changes of narration throughout the book definitively gave A Conspiracy of Kings a distinct vibe from Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia... and it accomplished a lot. Most importantly, through Sophos narration, readers got to know and understand him much better. I also liked the fact that it played up the romantic relationship between Sophos and Eddis... which by the way, was so sweet! I'm so happy they can finally be together!

Personally, I loved the scenes between the 4 sovereigns, their interactions and friendships :) I loved seeing Eugenides and Sophos renew their friendship after so many have happened to them. They're both have gone through a lot, mature... but deep down, they're still Gen and Sophos :)

My only complaint is that A Conspiracy of Kings was a bit short in comparison to King of Attolia. I wanted to read more about these great characters, want to see them interact more... I didn't want the book to finish because it means I have to wait till the next book (pretty sure there will be one). I also wished we've seen a bit more of some previous characters such as Costis and Relius. However, that's me as a fan of this series. Story-wise, this was definitively Sophos story, so it made sense for them not to appear...

My Grade: A-. A Conspiracy of Kings is a great book and a great installment in The Queen's Thief series. It has it all:  interesting characters, intriguing plot and exquisite writing. I hope we won't have to wait too long to see Eugenides becoming Annux!

8 comments:

  1. I was lucky on the wait for this book, too. I only read the first three books last year. Now, though, there could be a very big wait. I am not sure when the next book is due out!

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  2. I haven't read this series, Abby did and liked it a bunch. Looks like I'll add this to the "need to read" list. :)

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  3. Ok, if there are more books in this series, I might wait to read it then. LOL I've got more then enough series on the go as it is, I don't know if I can add another!

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  4. Nath, is this a series that mostly girls enjoy, or in your opinion will boys eat it up too? It sounds good! I'm looking for something for my nephew and this series looks like it has some potential. :)

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  5. Kailana - Well at least, the book didn't end on a cliff-hanger, so it's not too bad :D But I hope we won't have to wait for too long.

    Leslie - You definitively need to read this series. I loved it :D I'm sure you will to.

    Ames - Noooo!! Read some of it so we can discuss!! and share the love!! The series don't end on cliffhangers, so it's okay :D

    Hilcia - It's not a girly series. It's really for mixed audiences and I think boys might enjoy it even more because it's more fantasy-ish a bit. Definitively a good choice for your nephew :D

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  6. A-! Wow. And top 3 reads, series, and author??? Double wow. But hmm, it's YA. Well, I'm glad you really like it. :D

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  7. Thanks Nath. I'll put this series on my list of recommendations for the boys! :D

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  8. Tabitha - Yep, yep :D If there was one YA series I had to recommend to everyone, this would be it. Come on, Tabzy, you know you want to try it LOL.

    Hilcia - You're welcome :D You'll have to let me know if it was a good recommendation :P

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