I last read Megan Whalen Turner’s 2001 novel The Queen of Attolia on January 1st, 2003. I know because I still have the report I wrote for the SFBC. I also know — now — how grateful I should be to Andrew Wheeler for not making my reports generally available1. “Unduly harsh” is the kindest thing I can say about my thirteen-year-old review of The Queen of Attolia.
An explanation but not an excuse: I read Queen without reading The Thief, the book to which it is a sequel. This is fine for some series books (I cannot say my (non)enjoyment of whichever Time of Wheel book I read or that Throne of Games book where people did nasty stuff was in any way affected by not having read the preceding books) but not for this one.
How often can one talented thief, even one as talented as Eugenides, the Queen’s Thief of Eddis, sneak into the Queen of Attolia’s heavily guarded buildings?
One time more than he can successfully sneak back out.
The obvious thing to do with a thief is to execute him. But in this case, there would be repercussions. Eddis would react badly to the death of its Thief. Also, there are some potentially messy theological questions involved. The Queen of Attolia has not survived years of scheming barons, inherited discord with her neighbours Eddis and Sounis, and the never-ending ambitions of distant Mede by doing the obvious thing.
Attolia resolves the matter by returning Eugenides alive, but in no condition to continue as Thief. While a traumatized Eugenides learns to function left-handed, Attolia is free to concentrate on matters of state without worrying about a Thief flitting through her palaces. Matters like the war with Eddis that followed on the heels of Eugenides’ return. And the shaky alliance with Sounis. And the quiet machinations of the Mede ambassador.
A Thief minus a hand seems to be no thief at all, but what Attolia overlooks is that even shy a hand, Eugenides still has his skills and his unique way of looking at things. And some very interesting plans for Attolia.
I think I must have read this in manuscript, because the book has an end note that addresses my concerns about certain elements of the worldbuilding. The setting looks like a mishmash of various periods in Greek history … because it is a deliberate mishmash of Greek history. Though the author, Megan Whalen Turner, does give the reader some hints as to theological and geopolitical complications the queen faces in this book, Attolia’s actions only make complete sense if one has read the first book.
I still stand by my reaction to one twist in the romance subplot. The revelation following the choice between marriage and death by boathook comes out of nowhere and far from resolves the matter. If I were either spouse in this boathook marriage, I would sleep very lightly.
While Turner’s inspiration is Greece, the particulars of Attolia’s predicament suggest a British source. Like Elizabeth, Attolia began her reign with only tenuous control over her nation. It was bad enough that she was young … but she was also a woman. Not a proper ruler by local standards. In response, Attolia rules harshly, quashing all challenges. The book makes it clear why this seems necessary. Attolia might have taken some helpful hints from Eddis, her rival queen, but geopolitical considerations would seem to rule that out .
With the proper context, I found this book quite engaging on the reread. I am happy I was inspired — okay, bribed — to revisit it. I now am anxious to read more of the series.
The Queen of Attolia can be purchased here.
1: I still stand by one of the comments he did quote publicly,
I protest the deprimatization of the DC Universe – if gorillas and monkeys were good enough for Julius Schwartz, they should be good enough for us!
I meant non-human primates, of course. I was irked with the book in question because the author robbed Brainiac of his space-monkey. Brainiac’s existential angst and his futile quest to find meaning in an otherwise empty life by shrinking cities cannot be properly understood without the context of his mute but attentive pet, Koko the albino space-monkey.