The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner

March 8, 2010 at 3:52 am | Posted in 4 stars, Fantasy | Leave a comment
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CoverThis is a sequel to The Thief, a traditional sequel in that it’s not a continuation of the first book’s story but rather a separate story involving the same characters that takes place afterward. Like the first book, this is a secondary-world fantasy that is light on actual fantastic elements (though they are not totally absent). Also as before, the world takes its names from Ancient Greece, its society from medieval Europe, and its politics from both, though the author provides a strangely defensive afterword claiming there’s no connection to actual history. Although Eugenides, the titular thief from the first book, is still the most prominent character, he no longer narrates and the book’s story involves very little, well, theft. Instead the focus is on political intrigue and the struggles in war and diplomacy between three kingdoms, with Eugenides serving as a spy-commando like a medieval James Bond.

The book was recommended to me as “a YA version of Dorothy Dunnett” and there’s a lot of truth to this. Like Dunnett’s Lymond and Nicholas, both Eugenides and the Queen for whom the book is named embark on elaborate schemes that depend on deception and much of the fun of reading the book comes from watching these schemes play out. It also shares some of the weaknesses of Dunnett’s format: to preserve suspense in the face of ultra-capable characters, the reader is frequently left in the dark about their true plans and even sometimes their motives. This was a big part of The Thief too, but it’s more disruptive here because it’s the characters’ feelings about each other that are being obfuscated in service to the narrative. Having to show the cause of the main character’s romantic attachment long after showing its effects strikes me as inherently less effective, since the whole thing seems to come out of nowhere.

However, if it shares the weaknesses of Dunnett’s series, it also shares many of their strengths, and if it’s not as literate and ambitious, well, it’s a lot more accessible. Unlike The Thief, which struck me as pretty much a straight adventure, Queen of Attolia also asks some thought-provoking questions…classic Greek questions, in fact, about fate and free will (and, in keeping with its setting, the book seems to point toward medieval European answers). As always with YA books, I can’t tell you what actual young adults will think, but it’s definitely a worthwhile read for adults.

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