2006’s The King of Attolia is the third novel in Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.
Marry the queen, become king! Sounds like a great career path. Except it turns out that kings have responsibilities and that their subjects have Expectations with a capital E. And there are enemies eager to take advantage of the King’s failure to perform as expected.
Once the Thief of Eddis, Eugenides is now the King of Attolia. Where he once lurked in the shadows, now he is in the spotlight. Thus far the one-handed King has not done much to win the loyalty of his wife’s people, which is just one reason why so many people openly despise him. Since the set of all people who hold him in contempt include the guards charged with keeping Eugenides alive, this is a problem.
Costis’ loss of self-control led him to lash out at his King. Unforgivable for a subject, Costis’ crime is doubly unforgivable because Costis is one of the King’s guards. Logic and law demand unpleasant death for Costis. Much to Costis’ surprise, the King spares him. Not merely as a cruel joke: Costis’ lapse has turned the guard into something a King faced with domestic enemies and foreign aggressors desperately needs.
A lever with which to move the world.
In Costis’ defense, to know Eugenides is to want to punch his smug, manipulative face1. You might think that knowing Eugenides enemies are at best indifferent to the needs of the Kingdom and at worst actively hostile would help curb such impulses … but actually knowing the King makes resistance to impulse even more difficult.
Unlike certain other feudal states I may have complained about recently, Turner’s Attolia manages to cram a fairly impressive assortment of conflicting agendas into one fairly small kingdom. She also denies the reader the luxury of assuming that anyone who opposes the former Thief is necessarily bad: Eugenides and his wife agree on long term goals (if only because one of them is keeping her on the throne on an independent Attolia) but disagree on how best to achieve those goals.
The fact the most unambiguously malevolent antagonists are also the ones who are off-stage, operating through catspaws, makes me suspect if they had their time on-stage, they too would turn out to have perfectly reasonable reasons for doing what they are doing.
While the novel stands on its own, it sets up some rather interesting conflicts down the line, ones that will set Eugenides’ loyalty to and love for Eddis against his duty to and love for Attolia. I for one am curious to see how the master schemer succeeds when he is his own foe. But that can wait for another review.
1: I wonder how I would react if I reread one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan stories?