The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings
I am here to tell you that you need to read these books.
Yes, they’re probably shelved in your bookstore or library under fantasy, but — trust me here — they are not your ordinary, average, run-of-the-mill fantasy novels. Set in a world similar to Ancient Greece, full of gods, kings and queens, and conflicts, these books would be better described as riveting political historical fiction. Even if none of the characters actually existed.
Because if there is one thing that Megan Whalen Turner has become known for, it’s for writing books that are suspenseful, full of twists and turns, and generally have an ending you will not see coming yet not mind at all. Which means the trick to this review will be to convince you that you want to read this series, without giving away any of the surprises that make these books so extraordinary.
The main reason these books are so winning is our main character for the first two, and a significant player in the other two books: Gen. He begins the series initially in prison because of his thieving prowess and his unfortunate compulsion to brag about it. His adventures start when, one day, he’s taken out and hauled off on a journey to steal a special treasure for the king’s advisor who hopes to make good with the king because this mythical icon has the potential to give the king power. Over the course of the journey, we — as readers — learn more about Gen and his companions, as well as the world they exist in. But it’s Gen — the true anti-hero, someone who is but doesn’t want to be; the bad boy, the thief, the one who can’t be tamed — who really carries the books. He’s amusing, alluring, captivating, and you will find that you miss him when he’s not there.
But the other reason is the writing. Turner is a superb storyteller, creating worlds and characters with as good a talent as Robin McKinley or Shannon Hale. Descriptions effortlessly flow from her pen; plots are simple, elegant and fantastic; she switches narrative points of view with ease and without being jarring; she includes gods, myths, stories and legends at the exact point they’re needed, and without any of the boring elements that usually accompany those sorts of asides. Sure, there are faults: it’s essentially the same story over and over, and Turner has some tried-and-true tricks she likes to use, which are only glaring if you sit and read all of these books one after the other over the course of a weekend. But you won’t care. I promise you will fall in love with Gen, with the world, with the story Turner weaves.
Which is why you should read these four books. And it’s why — in spite of the fact that I think any reasonable person would say that this is a perfect series and please leave it at that — I’m hoping that Turner won’t leave this world behind and will write more books about these characters. Because I want to know what happens to them all.
Rated: Mild. Mostly for violence; it’s never explicit, but it is there. No language or sex, though.