Thick As Thieves: A Review

Kamet is a slave but he is also poised to become one of the most powerful men in the Mede Empire thanks to his master Nahuseresh’s close relationship with the Emperor. While he knows the limitations of his life as a secretary and slave, Kamet is ambitious and eager for the chance to help shape the Empire and wield his influence–a future that is almost certainly within reach until one whispered conversation changes everything.

No longer safe in his position, or even in his city, Kamet embarks on a journey that will take him farther than he once thought possible. Traveling across the country and away from the seat of the Mede Empire, Kamet finds an unlikely ally in an Attolian soldier far from home and discovers that sometimes choice and freedom can be much more important than power or influence in Thick as Thieves (2017) by Megan Whalen Turner.

To call this book my most anticipated 2017 release would be a gross understatement. When I found out I was reviewing this book for School Library Journal (and thus getting to read it early as an ARC) I screamed and scared one of my coworkers. This series has gotten under my skin and been part of my life for almost two decades (the first book in the series, The Thief, just had its twentieth anniversary). I am so happy this series still has the love it deserves and that the series is not only in print but reissued this year (with new covers!) so that new people can discover it and love it as much as I do.

Turner returns to the world of Eugenides and her Queen’s Thief series in this fifth installment which moves beyond the familiar borders of the countries of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis. Thick as Thieves is filled with characters readers will learn to love and want to return to again and again including several from earlier books in the series.

Kamet is analytical and pragmatic–traits which come across completely in his first person narration. He brings a fresh perspective to familiar places and people while expanding the world of this series with his knowledge of Mede culture and mythology including the wayward gods, Immakuk and Ennikar.

Turner expertly negotiates Kamet’s complicated feelings about his enslavement. Intellectually Kamet knows he lacks freedom. He knows his position as a slave is vulnerable in an empire that has a singular fear of its slave population. At the same time, Kamet allows himself to be blinded by his own ambitions and his narrow view of the world. Kamet’s journey from a circumspect and scholarly secretary to a man in control of his own fate is immensely satisfying as is the way Kamet’s story intertwines with other pieces of the series and helps smaller plot points come into focus.

This whip-smart book works equally well as an introduction for readers just discovering Turner’s characters and as a way to move the series forward to what promises to be a stirring conclusion for long-time fans. Thick as Thieves is a dazzling adventure and a truly charming story of unlikely friends. A must for fantasy readers seeking titles rich with intrigue and politics. Cannot recommend this book or this series highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the April 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

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A Conspiracy of Kings: A (Reread) Review

Sophos has always known that he is too soft and too scholarly to be a proper heir to his uncle the king of Sounis. When he is exiled to the island of Letnos after parting ways with the magus and a thief who proved too clever for his own good, Sophos is free to spend his days reading poetry and contemplating philosophy even if it is in the company of an odious tutor.

All of that changes the moment Letnos is attacked and Sophos is abducted. Hidden away and rendered unrecognizable, Sophos has a chance to turn away from his responsibilities as Sounis’ heir.

It is not easy to become a king. But it turns out it’s even harder to forsake your own country. Navigating the murky waters of friendship and sovereignty, Sophos will have to decide if old friends can become new allies and whether or not honor, or freedom for that matter, have anything to do with ruling a country in A Conspiracy of Kings (2010) by Megan Whalen Turner.

A Conspiracy of Kings is the fourth book in Turner’s Queen’s Thief series and continues Sophos’ story–a character first introduced as one of Gen’s travel companions back in The Thief. Sophos narrates this novel in the first person. Throughout most of the novel he is talking to someone as he relates the story of what brought him all the way to Attolia after a dangerous journey across Sounis. The second person is a hard tense to negotiate but it works well here and realizing who Sophos is talking to is a revelation in itself.

Perception always plays a role in Turner’s books and A Conspiracy of Kings is no exception. The manipulations here are even more subtle as Sophos tries to fit the present Eugenides as king of Attolia with his memories of Gen the thief. In addition to that, Sophos’ own self-perception also comes into play with a fascinating character study through his narration.

Sophos is a guileless character and he is very aware of his limitations throughout the story. He is sensitive, he blushes at the drop of a hat, he is not an experienced swordsman, the list goes on. Because of this, Sophos’ narration is refreshingly forthright and direct. Sophos is quick to explain his internal struggles and even some of his shortcomings as he tries to come to terms with the shocking reality that he is responsible for the fate of an entire country. Of course, that only tells part of the story as Sophos fails to notice the ways in which he himself has changed and grown on his journey to becoming a king in his own right.

Much of this series focuses on Eugenides’ journey from boy to man and by extension from his path from man to king. A Conspiracy of Kings is a slightly different story as Sophos acknowledges not only that he is a king but also that he might have been meant to be king all along.

This book has my favorite ending of the entire series. I love the dialogue that concludes this story and I especially enjoy tracing the path of Sophos and Gen’s friendship as they begin to meet each other on equal footing. A Conspiracy of Kings is another arresting story filled with evocative prose and characters that are guaranteed to resonate.

If you enjoy A Conspiracy of Kings, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The Queen of AttoliaThe King of Attolia and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The King of Attolia: A (Reread) Review

It is not easy to become the king of a country already fond of its queen, especially for a foreigner who kidnapped that queen and may or may not have forced her hand in the matter of their marriage. How can any man truly become a king when no one sees him as a sovereign? Not that it matters. With such tenuous foundations, sovereignty is not enough to ensure loyalty anyway.

Being the Thief of Eddis was always enough for Eugenides. He didn’t want to become King of Attolia. He didn’t want the crown at all. He wanted the queen. Even more wondrous, Attolia wanted him. But one cannot marry a queen without becoming a king.

Their marriage will not be an easy one. Each move will require careful calculation. Especially when a rash young guard is dragged into the middle of the kingdom’s political machinations.

Much like Gen himself, Costis wants nothing to do with the royal court or Eugenides’ efforts to avoid all royal responsibility. And yet the more time he spends with the young king the more Costis understands all that Gen has lost in his pursuit of the throne–and what made the sacrifice worthwhile. Together these unlikely allies might even teach the Attolian court a thing or two about what it takes to be a true king in The King of Attolia (2006) by Megan Whalen Turner.

I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite book in this series–it’s a bit like asking a person to pick their favorite arm or leg–but some of my favorite scenes from the series are in The King of Attolia. Going into this book I, like most fans of Turner’s series, already know and love Gen. Which makes it all the more satisfying to watch as Eugenides performs for and ultimately wins over all of Attolia.

This book is written in third person with shifting perspectives. Most of the story is told through a close focus on Costis, a young soldier in Attolia’s royal guard. Readers learn about Gen’s changed circumstances through Costis’ eyes. In this way, it is easy to see how little the country thinks of their new king and also, thanks to moments from Gen and Attolia’s perspectives, how greatly they underestimate his cunning and his ingenuity.

Attolia and Eugenides are one of the most fascinating couples in literature. Nothing about them quite makes sense. Attolia is older and even taller–she embodies her title and position so much that it feels strange to refer to her by her given name, Irene. She is brutal and demands attention. Eugenides is small, like all good thieves, and abhors attention and the trappings that come with being in the public eye. Since the loss of his hand he has had to create a new persona–one that often capitalizes on selling himself short (and only partly on really not wanting to be a king). Watching the two of them balance all of the fraught history between them and what it means to be royalty as well as newly married is fascinating and made me fall in love with both Attolia and Gen all over again.

Costis’ perspective also breathes some new life into this story filled with familiar characters. Both he and Gen have a lot of growing up to do in this story as each young man begins to grasp his true place in the world. The King of Attolia is a slow burn of a story filled with satisfying reveals, wonderful moments, and truly memorable characters. Richly told and expertly written, The King of Attolia is another fine installment in this marvelous series.

If you enjoy The King of Attolia, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Queen of Attolia: A (Reread) Review

It is not easy to be the queen of a country anxious to have a king, especially when sovereignty is not enough to ensure obedience let alone loyalty. Attolia knows this better than most as she has struggled to keep hold of her throne amidst conniving barons and uneasy alliances.

Attolia knows the appearance she cultivates for her subjects–the hardened ruler without compassion or remorse. She knows that the longer she wears that mask the harder it is to be anything else.

Eugenides has spent years watching the queen of Attolia from afar as he taunts her with baubles left by her bedside and repeated thefts from her palace. What draws Eugenides back to Attolia is anyone’s guess, but return he does. Again and again.

When Eugenides is caught one too many times stealing from Attolia, he pays the ultimate price. Finding himself caught in the middle of a war he wants no part of, Eugenides does what he always does: he plans to steal what he needs to remedy the situation. But in the wake of a horrible loss and feelings he can scarcely fathom, Gen isn’t sure if he will be able to steal the peace Eddis needs to survive in The Queen of Attolia (2000) by Megan Whalen Turner.

I always tell people that they have to read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia when I recommend this series. This book represents a dramatic shift in tone and style as Turner expands Eugenides’ world and moves the story in a darker direction. This book functions as a standalone story and can be read outside of the series but it works best read in order particularly to see how much Eugenides has grown and changed since book one. The Queen of Attolia also lays the groundwork for most of book three (and even hints at book four) as the threat of Mede invasion is made more overt.

This book is written in third person and shifts perspective. In this way readers are at a remove from Eugenides first as he recovers from the loss of his hand and later as he plans what will come next. This choice allows for more powerful reveals as, once again, Gen finds ways to shock and amaze. This technique also allows for a stark contrast between Attolia as she presents herself to the world and Irene, the young woman who has had to harden herself to become the queen Attolia expects her to be.

Turner delivers a haunting tale of broken people trying to understand what it means to be whole when the damage has already been done and, no matter what else might follow, completely irreparable. Unbelievably this leads to one of  the most enduring and powerful love stories I’ve ever read. The Queen of Attolia is a compelling story of political intrigue, old gods, cunning, and above all the lengths people go to for love. Not to be missed.

If you enjoy The Queen of Attolia, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Old Tales, New Twists: A Book List

The premises might sound familiar but these books all take traditional story elements and turn them upside down.

  1. Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart: For Gretchen Yee life as an artificial red head is anything but glamorous, especially when she feels too ordinary to fit in at her artsy high school. But it turns out life as a vermin, specifically as a fly on the wall of the boys locker room, is even worse. After a week maybe Gretchen will have learned enough to live life as a superhero instead.
  2. Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore: Nimira came to Lorinar to seek her fortune but instead she finds seedy music halls and natives who treat her like foreign trash. When a handsome sorcerer offers Nimira work singing with a mysterious automaton he may also be giving her the key to her happiness if only she can discover the automaton’s secrets.
  3. Liar by Justine Larbalestier: One of the only true things Micah will tell you about herself is that she’s a liar. But Micah doesn’t want to lie anymore. Especially not to you–the one person she hasn’t lied to. Yet. When her secret boyfriend dies, Micah’s carefully crafted lies begin to peel away. One by one. Until all Micah is left with is the cold, hard truth. Or is she?
  4. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: Gen can steal anything. At least he can when he isn’t locked in the king’s prison. It’s a terrible risk but if Gen can steal a hidden artifact he might be able to win his freedom and something more.
  5. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier: Each full moon Jena and her sisters cross the wildwood to visit the enchanted glade of the Other Realm for a night of dancing and revelry. Everyone knows the wildwood is a dangerous place filled with witches, ghosts and all manner of other worldly creatures–and the lake that claimed Jena’s cousin years ago. But no harm can come from dancing. Or can it?
  6. Sabriel by Garth Nix: When her father, the Abhorsen, becomes trapped in Death Sabriel has to assume her rightful duties as the next Abhorsen and save him, and perhaps many others, from the dead that would keep him and claim the world of the living for themselves.
  7. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: Nothing leaves Incarceron and nothing enters. No one knows where the prison is or how to get to it. So why does Finn suspect he has a life Outside the Prison? And why does Claudia have a key that seems to let her talk to Finn–a prisoner Inside?
  8. Peeps by Scott Westerfeld: Cal Thompson lives in a world where vampires are real, well sort of real. Parasite positives, “Peeps” for short, start to hate sunlight and everything they once loved. And they crave human blood. Cal is a carrier for the parasite and part of an organization dedicated to hunting Peeps down.
  9. How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier: Living in New Avalon and having your own personal fairy should be awesome. But for Charlie it totally sucks. Charlie doesn’t have a cool fairy to help her find nice clothes, or one to improve her grades, or make boys like her. Charlie is too young to drive, but she has a parking fairy. And she is going to get rid of it if it’s the last thing she does.
  10. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility exist, Sophie Hatter is resigned to be a stunning failure. After all, she is the eldest of three sisters. Except that this is not a traditional fairy tale and events soon intervene to set Sophie on a very unexpected course indeed for an eldest daughter.

Ten for 2010

In no particular order, my ten favorite books from 2010:

  1. Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson: Scarlett is still living in a NYC hotel and her life is about to get way more insane when her boss Mrs. Amberson gives her the unenviable job of befriending an annoyingly perfect young Broadway star. Add to that said star’s especially annoying brother, Max, and you have a recipe for disaster.
  2. Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows a lot about stealing. So much, in fact, that she managed to steal herself a normal life. That was before she had to leave that life to clear her father of the one robbery he really didn’t commit.
  3. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner: Sophos never wanted to be King of Sounis. But after he is abducted and presumed dead by his kingdom, Sophos realizes that responsibilities very rarely care about wants.
  4. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: The people of Lumatere are scattered, some trapped inside the kingdom walls while others live as exiles, haunted by the ghosts of their tragic past. But there might be hope. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock.
  5. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: Nothing leaves Incarceron and nothing enters. No one knows where the prison is or how to get to it. So why does Finn suspect he has a life Outside the Prison? And why does Claudia have a key that seems to let her talk to Finn–a prisoner Inside?
  6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Tessa Gray travels to London wanting to find her brother and start a new life. Instead she is dragged into the world of Shadowhunters and London’s Downworld–people with mysterious powers not of this world.
  7. A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin and Rose Butler have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for.
  8. The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan: Mae struggles to protect her brother Jamie from the warlocks who want to exploit his power. The enigmatic Ryves brothers are willing to help–if they can overcome their own demons first.
  9. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Duh, who doesn’t have this one on their list? Do I even need to blurb it?
  10. White Cat by Holly Black: Cassel Sharpe is perfectly content being the straight arrow, ordinary guy in a family of crooked curse workers. That is when he’s not being followed by a white cat that reminds him a lot of his best friend Lila–the girl he killed three years ago.

Is it still early in the year? Yes. That said, these are my favorites so far. Maybe before the year is out there will be more but I’m not expecting it simply because there isn’t that much time to read more books from 2010. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being my top eleven or twelve.

A Conspiracy of Kings: A Review

It takes a certain kind of person to rule a country. Few men manage to make themselves into successful kings. Fewer still are born to be kings.

A lover of what his father calls intellectual pretension, Sophos knows a great many things. He has a firm knowledge of botany, poetry, languages, and even diplomacy. He also knows, with certainty, that he does not want to be king of Sounis. A disgrace to his father and his uncle, the current king, Sophos has always known that he was too fond of scholarly pursuits instead of fighting, too eager to write poetry instead of study battle plans.

Really, it’s no surprise that he has been exiled to the island of Letnos since parting ways with the magus and a thief who proved too clever for his own good. Exile isn’t such a terrible thing. It’s better surely to spend his days reading poetry and contemplating philosophy even if it is in the company of an odious tutor.

For all of his life, Sophos has been told what he should and should not do. When an end to his exile is finally in sight, Sophos is given an unlikely choice. Attacked and abducted, hidden away and rendered unrecognizable, Sophos finally seems to have a chance to get away from his future as a king.

It is not easy to become a king. But it turns out it’s even harder to forsake your own country. Navigating the murky waters of friendship and sovereignty, Sophos will have to decide if old friends can become new allies and whether or not honor, or for that matter freedom, have anything to do with ruling a country in A Conspiracy of Kings (2010) by Megan Whalen Turner.

A Conspiracy of Kings is the fourth book in Turner’s series about Eugenides, the former Thief of Eddis, his friends, and his world. (The series began withTurner’s Newbery honor book The Thief followed by The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. Readers of Turner’s earlier books might be well advised to re-read the earlier titles to get a better sense of the big picture of the series.)

Sounis isn’t a real country any more than Eddis or Attolia are, but there is something inordinately compelling about these countries and the struggles of their monarchs. Despite the incongruity with the lives of readers, A Conspiracy of Kings–liked Turner’s other books–remains relevant and arresting with evocative prose and characters that are guaranteed to resonate.

This latest installment is particularly engrossing thanks to its second person narrative structure that gives readers full insight into Sophos’ situation as well as his internal struggles as he tries to reconcile his understanding that he is nothing like an ideal king to the reality that, regardless of that fact, he is a king and responsible for a country. If the earlier books in the series showed Eugenides’ journey from boy to man (and by extension from man to king), A Conspiracy of Kings shows a young man acknowledging not only that he is a king but also that he was meant to be a king all along.

Turner fans need not fret, all of the old favorites in the series make return appearances here even though Sophos’ story remains the lens through which everything is viewed. Gen, Attolia, and Eddis all play their part among others to make A Conspiracy of Kings another satisfying story filled with wit, intrigue, stories, and even some romance with more than a few twists and turns along the way for good measure.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater