Conspiracy of Kings by Meghan Whelan Turner

November 14, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Posted in 4 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | 3 Comments
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When reviewing this series’ previous book, King of Attolia, I commented that I was impressed Megan Whelan Turner didn’t just churn out books similar to The Thief but instead kept developing her characters and taking them to new places. She does that again in the series’ fourth book, Conspiracy of Kings, but also takes the even bolder step of demoting Eugenides into a supporting role and making Sophos the main character. I suppose it would be easy to overstate the risk here, since the series has acquired most of its fans not through Eugenides’ particular traits but instead through Turner’s depth of characterization, and that is definitely on display once again.

Like many fantasy protagonists, Sophos has an interest in books instead of fighting and horseback riding and thus is a disappointment to his father. Unfortunately for his hopes of living a quiet life, he finds himself tangled in the schemes of barons hoping to replace the King of Sounis with a puppet they can control. Since Sophos doesn’t have the physical gifts Eugenides’ does, he’s a more thoughtful adventurer, enduring hardship but wondering as he does whether his goals justify his sacrifices. His friendship with Eugenides is his one chance of coming out on top of the situation, but they have to figure out how to position their friendship against the needs of their respective countries first.

If I had to criticize the book, it would probably be for the way it feels “small” despite a reasonably epic storyline. Sophos meets a number of people in his adventures, but it seems like his only lasting acquaintances are the royalty of Eddis and Attolia. The same is true for those monarchs as well…they seem to know each other far better than they know anyone in their actual countries. However, in a genre usually featuring sprawling casts and overcomplicated stories (adult fantasy that is), the economy on display in Turner’s books is a little refreshing. Maybe I should read more YA fantasy.

Anyone who enjoyed the previous three books in the series will like this one too. It’s a much more straightforward novel than King of Attolia, but it still handles its central character conflict with an impressive degree of subtlety. I feel like the interactions between Sophos and Eugenides would have gone straight over my head when I was reading YA books, but perhaps I’m selling kids short. Readers new to the series should start with The Thief.

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  1. I don’t suppose you often take recommendations, or read much the comments on older reviews, but I would like (if I may) to offer a recommendation, based on the fact that you do read YA at times.

    The book I am suggesting is called “Wings of a Falcon” by Cynthia Voigt, who is perhaps better known as a mainstream children’s author. The other books in the series are cute and appropriate to their level, but I honestly feel that “Falcon” really surpasses both its genre and its supposed reading age.

    It’s difficult to explain what the plot is, because it doesn’t really have one per se. Instead, it has two main characters, who go on a journey for place to place. The book is not so much concerned with the events that happen as how the characters react to it.

    (I feel that I am not describing it very well, but equally it is difficult to talk about the book without spoiling what goes on in it.)

    It is a novel which explores heroism and heroes, moral choices, and friendship; above all, it is a novel which has far more to it than first meets the eye. You would also be happy to know that, although there are technically 4 books in the series, they are only loosely connected (having a gap of 2 or 3 generations between each one) and therefore perfectly standalone. “Falcon” in particular is only tied to the others by dint of being written in the same universe.

    It is definitely a children’s book, of course (or at least, a YA book.) But unlike Harry Potter or other similar series, it’s not designed to “trap” children who normally dislike books into reading. Rather, it is a children’s book for children who avidly *enjoy* reading, and would perhaps seek a challenge. I feel that it has enough merit in it to interest most adults though, and often wish that the many generic fantasy novels I have encountered were more like “Wings of a Falcon”.

  2. Hrm, it occurs to me I should apologise for posting something so off-topic on your blog – so, my apologies!

    But I genuinely value your opinion on the books you have written reviews for, as I think they are well-written and informed opinions. Consequently, I would be interested in your thoughts on “Falcon”, which is almost completely overlooked in the fantasy world (largely due to its status as a YA and its publisher being Scholastic, of all things).

    Anyway, apologies once again, and many sincere thanks for the interesting reviews you’ve written over the years.

  3. No need to apologize, I always appreciate recommendations. I’m about to start a long fantasy series (well, already started in fact, look for the first review in a day or two) and some YA books might be a good way to take some quick breaks as I go. I can’t guarantee anything but I’ll keep an eye out for it.


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