It is safe to say that I spend most of my free time reading. I read three to four books every week, sometimes more. I am very careful with what I choose to read which means that most of the books I read, I end up enjoying at least to some degree. But it is rare, extremely rare, to read a book that falls in that category of Books for Life. You know the ones: those that take over your heart and your mind, that even when you are reading you know that you are experiencing something unique, a connection with a story and its characters (that only serial readers can understand); those that you know will remain with you, forever.
I experienced such rapture when I read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss earlier in the year, and to my utter surprise and delight, again a few weeks ago when I finally read The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner.
This series came under my radar only recently when Angie from Angieville started to blog about the books with not a little amount of excitement. From then on, I started to see more and more people talking about them with such fervor that I thought I should give them a try. And, HOLY GUACAMOLE.
I am totally, irrevocably, head over heels in love with this series. I knew I would have to review these books eventually, I had hoped to do so during this YA Month but I also realised that I had a decision to make: I could either review each book in the series separately or I could review the series as whole. The former would naturally lead to spoilers being revealed and since these books cannot, should not be spoiled, I opted for the latter by writing an overall review of the series, spoiler free. This is what I am trying to do here – although I am fully aware that so far, I only managed to basically behave like a fan-girl.
But it cannot be helped. I now completely understand the fervor, the excitement that this series inspire. As I was reading the books, as the pages were being turned I had only one thought in mind: this is why I read. THIS is why I read. THIS IS WHY I READ. And it all comes down to one word: Eugenides.
Gen, Eugenides is a thief. He boasts that he can steal anything. That lands him in the King of Sounis’ prison where he spends a couple of months until he is offered, by the King’s Magus, his freedom but in return he has to steal something that people don’t even think really exists.
This is how the whole thing opens, in The Thief and we are told about this expedition in search of the Gift, by Gen himself, a humorous narrator of this dashing adventure across the neighbouring countries of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia. This person, this ragamuffin, lazy, starved boy – can he really steal anything?
But you see, Gen is extremely clever, a fact which the reader and his companions in the first adventure, come to slowly realise. Close to the end of that book, we learn something that is crucial to the entire series – that Gen is actually cleverer than anyone else. And there is something else too, something that makes him important. But that doesn’t matter to us here and now, because what really matters is how amazing Gen is. By the end of book 1, it is impossible not to like the guy or his “voice”.
Then book 2 starts, and shock of the shocks. Gen is no longer the narrator – the narrative has shifted to third person with Gen’s, the Queen of Eddis’ and the Queen of Attolia’s PoV. At first, it is almost painful to lose Gen’s narration but then somewhere in the middle of the reading it hits you with a certainty:
OF COURSE the narrative has to change.
Because this is a different book. It is still the same story but progress has been made. Because now, the destiny of countries is at stake, war is brewing in the horizon between Attolia, Eddis and Sounis. This is a more sophisticated book, it has political discussion , political intrigue, it discusses the role that the Gods play in the fate of men and nations.
In the beginning of the series, Gen is a boy. A cocky, impetuous, adventurous, conniving boy. When book 2 starts, something terrible happens (did I say shock of the shocks before? Well, this is even more shocking) that shapes the man Eugenides becomes. A man who has now to steal more than a simple object: he is tasked to steal a man, a woman and peace.
The way he does it, takes us back to more twists like in the first book. And we, once again, are surprised by how clever Eugenides is. Even if we expect it by now.
Then book 3 starts. Once again, a shock. The book is entirely from the point of view of a character we never saw before. As the book progresses, the certainty hits once more:
OF COURSE the narrative has to change.
Because this time, this time we KNOW how clever Gen is. But no one else does. Including Costis, the narrator, a member of the Queen of Attolia’s Guard who commits the mistake of underestimating Eugenides. And this is the genius of Megan Whalen Turner because in book 3, we, the readers, are Eugenides’s accomplices. We sit back and wait for the coin to drop for everybody else as it has dropped for us in books 1 and 2. This is about pay-off, about Eugenides stealing respect and a kingdom. And what a story this is.
This is a series of books that have deep meanings, hidden clues throughout the story. Where everything matters from the type of clothes someone wears, to the reason behind a pair of earrings being worn at a particular right time, to the declaration of love that the raising of one’s eyebrow is.
And speaking of love: there is also romance in these books. It starts towards the middle of book 2 and it takes centre stage in book 3. But not in it a blatant way: the romance is subtle, almost private (especially in book 3) and I am not exaggerating when I say it is the most amazing romance I have read of late. It is unexpected and it is unusual. For starters, Eugenides is shorter and younger than the person he loves. But she is everything he ever wanted and he is everything she ever needed. Because of that, their dynamic is simply awesome and there is no other word for it. And what Eugenides is to his lady is aw-worthy at the same time that it is powerful. This is good stuff, plain and simple.
To sum up: I was lost in the world of Attolia and Eddis and I did not want to get away from it. I would be remiss if I didn’t say one last thing: that the female characters in the series are extremely capable, intelligent, strong, and I admired both of then, the two Queens, as different as they were in their personalities, immensely.
If you like unreliable narrators, cons, plot twists, political intrigue, character development, mythology, stories within stories, strong female characters and heart-warming romance and above all, a male protagonist that is all kinds of awesome, you should look no further than this series. It is not a perfect series by any means – there is change in pacing from one book to another, and the first book is clearly for a younger audience than the other two books. This is why, in my opinion, they should be read as a collection of books and not individually. I still love them though, flaws and all.
At the end of book three, Eugenides has stolen: a gift; a man; a woman; peace; a kindgom. He has also stolen my heart.
I know how cryptic this overview has been and that I did not provide any real details about the story. I still think you should find them out by yourself by reading the books, but if you want to know more you can read these reviews:
One last word: book 4 in the series, A Conspiracy of Kings is coming out in 2010. It is safe to say it my most anticipated book for 2010 along with The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.
Now you will have to excuse me, because writing this made me want to read these books all over again.